Grass growth has recovered after recent rain, but most parts of the UK could still benefit from significant rainfall.
Data collected as part of the EBLEX/Farmers Weekly GrassWatch initiative shows that in many cases growth is lower than it was last year, which will have implications for grazing stock, warns EBLEX. Eight colleges across England are monitoring grass growth and quality, with data posted regularly on FWi.
“We were hoping to use the results in 2011 to see how a normal spring compares with the past year’s late and dry spring,” says EBLEX scientist Liz Genever. “But this year we have seen an early, dry spring and it’s affected growth.”
At Askham Bryan in Yorkshire, between 18 April and 3 May the grass growth dropped by 56% on the permanent pasture to 21kg/ha DM a day, by 24% on the new re-seed to 64kg/ha DM and by 38% on the silage ley to 43kg/ha DM. “This compares with an overall average of around 78kg/ha DM a day for around this time last year.” However, some light rain up to 16 May means grass growth has recovered to April levels.
At Duchy College in Cornwall, average grass growth has nearly doubled in the past two weeks (from 17kg/ha DM to 29 kg/ha DM). However, when compared to figures from 2010, grass growth in May 2011 is still 40% lower.
The results are a reflection of the lack of rainfall. Plumpton College in East Sussex only had 4mm of rain in April – just 10% of its five-year average. Easton College near Norwich was contemplating irrigating in mid-April.
The poor spring growth throws up other considerations, notes Dr Genever. “Persistent hard grazing means that more palatable grasses will tend to be eaten out, which means that the less palatable grasses may dominate once it rains.”
Try to give the grass a rest to reduce the stress it experiences. “Consider culling unproductive animals to reduce stocking density and prioritise animals with higher feed requirements for the higher quality feeds. But don’t be tempted to open all the gates and allow animals to range over a wider area.”
Use buffer feeding to maintain your rotational grazing and ensure the grass in front gets the best opportunity to re-grow. “Watch for weeds – when it rains they will recover quickly and may become more of a problem, and action may be needed.”
• For the latest results and to find out how grass is growing in your area, log on to www.fwi.co.uk/grasswatch, or follow the link to join the discussion on the GrassWatch forum.