Go for clover and lift profitability

Dairy farmers could improve profitability by as much as 2p/litre by switching from typical fertiliser-reliant systems to more extensive grass and clover farming.

Promar consultant Derek Gard-ner told delegates at the Briritsh Seed Houses Forage 365 conference this change of approach was a necessary response to changing agricultural support policy.

“Total elimination of nitrogen fertiliser is feasible for most businesses.

Dairy farmers currently applying about 200kgN/ha/year to grassland should be able to cut out nitrogen without any negative impact on productivity.

“This can be achieved by using white and red clover in grazing and silage leys respectively, but requires extensification for those with more intensive stocking rates, currently using high nitrogen levels.”

“The extra land could come from areas currently growing marginal cereal crops – so improving overall business profitability – or renting in additional acres.

“One of the impacts of SFP is we are now in an era when land is in excess and this is reflected in rent values.

It will increasingly make sense to take on extra land and extensify rather than to remain relatively intensive and use nitrogen fertiliser to sustain stocking densities.”

Mr Gardner said at current nitrogen fertiliser values, cutting it out altogether would save about 1p/litre on many units.

He believes an effective grass and clover farming system can generate sufficient nitrogen from fixation to replace nutrients currently applied.

The additional 1p/litre would come from improved dairy cow yields and milk quality, along with the wider benefits clover brings swards.

“Clover enhances soil fertility and this will have a positive impact on following crops, most notably in terms of nitrogen requirements,” he said.

“This helps make other crops in the rotation more profitable by reducing variable costs, which again increases business profitability.”