17 May 2002

NI producers take to DARD centres 1st hybrid ryegrass

THE first commercially marketed hybrid ryegrass from the DARD plant breeding centre at Loughgall is finding favour with producers in Northern Ireland.

The hybrid variety Belleek suits milk producer David Dunlops requirement for vigour and fast regrowth in a five year ley. Hybrid grasses are a cross between Italian and perennial varieties, designed to last longer than Italian ryegrass swards.

Fields suitable for maize at Mr Dunlops unit at Carnreagh, Hillsborough, are ploughed after five years, allowing maize to be grown before an autumn grass reseed, weather permitting. Even fields not suited to maize on the 28ha (70-acre) farm are ploughed and reseeded after five years.

"We reseed to keep energy and sugars in grass high. When you see cows milk go down when they go into old pastures, it shows the need for reseeding. But you also have to be careful whats put in it," said Mr Dunlop.

When its cut for silage and its impossible to make high quality silage, even when cutting early, a cheap bag of seed is a false economy, he explained.

Short-term Italian ryegrass leys have also found little favour. "We tried an Italian ley four years ago, but it grows into stem too quickly after first cut."

But he has found that the hybrid Belleek is fast growing with a good base and it supplies a good bulk for silage. The hybrid is included as 21% of a mix with 57% late heading ryegrasses and 21% of an intermediate heading variety, sold by Barenbrug.

David Johnston, DARD grass breeder, said the maximum inclusion rate for a hybrid was 30%. "Otherwise it would go off if not grazed or cut in time and it would become less palatable."

The variety Belleek also contains a high proportion of perennial ryegrass genetics at 75%.

The seed mix sown produces a good base. Half of Mr Dunlops crop sown last September was grazed for the second time this spring on May 9, by the 55 cows, averaging 7500 litres. "It was well advanced when cows went on it, after turnout at the end of March, so there is no poaching and it is palatable," said Mr Dunlop.

The other half is closed for silage and he expected to cut a good crop during the third week of May.

It was reseeded after grass, with the field ploughed, seed sown using a seedbox before harrowing and rolling.

He now has 12ha (30 acres) sown with the hybrid mix and plans to continue using it to replace all the pasture as it is reseeded. It has grown well on the farms fertile soils, despite the low fertiliser rate used.

Mr Dunlop also likes the slightly more open hybrid mix swards for spreading slurry on after first cut. "There is space for slurry to go onto soil. In a thick perennial sward you need rain to wash it in or it slows photosynthesis." &#42

The hybrid ryegrass mix sown last September is doing well and cows are grazing it for the second time, says David Dunlop.

&#8226 Five year leys.

&#8226 Include at 20-30% of mix.

&#8226 Good crop base.