31 July 1998

Sole N source – no worries

Clover is not as hard to

maintain as is often thought.

Emma Penny reports on the

first of a series of farm

walks looking at clover use

on commercial farms

FOR Shropshire producers John and Chris Downes, clover has been an important part of the system at The Farm, Longnor, Shrewsbury, but now they are becoming organic it will be their sole source of nitrogen.

The Downes farms – a 150ha (370-acre) dairy and cereal unit on boulder clay and a 89ha (220-acre) farm on a sandstone ridge with sheep, beef and cereals – were part of the MMBs clover trials in the 1980s, and clover has continued to play an important part on each unit.

"We have been used to relying on clover as a source of nitrogen, and so are not too worried about it becoming the sole source when we go organic," John Downes told producers on the farm walk.

The farms 96 British Friesian-type cows, which calve all year round, average 30 litres as fresh calvers, 26 litres of that from grass, Mr Downes estimated.

"Fresh calvers receive no more than 4kg of rolled barley and oats and a small amount of protein. Our aim is to produce as much as possible on-farm but we have to buy in some protein. But we are growing a small area of lupins to see whether they will save on protein costs and improve traceability. I am not sure how they will perform in an organic system, though."

Protein contribution from forage would increase, as maize was to be dropped from the rotation in favour of two-year red clover leys, which should give two cuts of silage a year, said Mr Downes.

Both red and white clover are to be stitched into one field which will be used for cutting and grazing. The red clover is more vigorous than white, and so will probably establish more quickly in the sward, but bloat concerns mean it will be sown at a low rate. Another concern, expressed at the meeting, was clovers persistency in swards, particularly where it is under pressure. Mr Downes operates a system where cows are set stocked at night, and are grazed rotationally in three day paddocks during the day. "We also have quite a high stocking rate, at 1.87, which includes all animals and the maize and fodder beet, but clover copes well under pressure."

Clover plays a vital role at John Downes farm.


Find out how white clover can cut, or even eliminate, the need for nitrogen fertiliser. Another farm walk, organised by IGER and MAFF, is to be held at 10am on Aug 5, at The Green, Fadmoor, Kirkbymoorside, Pickering, N Yorks. The organic farm runs suckler cows, taking progeny through to finishing and breeding ewes. Arable and vegetable crops are also grown. Further details from Ian Rhodes at IGER Aberystwyth (01970-823180) or Giles Tedstone (0151-327 1087).