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Sustain your farm’s resilience by maximising your grassland

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Barenbrug UK specialises in grass breeding and production for agriculture, sport and leisure. The Barenbrug name has been synonymous with the introduction of innovative grass solutions and is raising the standard in the research and breeding of forage and amenity grasses in the UK.

Livestock farmers are urged to adopt a crop mindset to ensure maximum output from grassland, their farm’s most productive asset.

Grass remains the most cost-effective and sustainable feedstuff for livestock, but some swards might be operating at just half their true capacity – meaning farmers could be falling short of their productivity potential by thousands of litres of milk and tonnes of meat.

Our primary source of quality, sustainable, nutrient-rich forage should be grass, because the UK has the perfect climate to grow it in abundance. Much of our grassland, other than well-established permanent pasture and unimproved, species-rich grazing, is old and tired. These swards are a drag not just on an individual farm’s productivity, but the sector as a whole.

© Barenbrug

To help reinvigorate thinking about grass productivity, Barenbrug has launched a new initiative, Grow Your Future With Grass, to help farmers seize the productivity and environmental benefits of well-managed grassland.

More than 70% of the UK’s agricultural areas is grassland. That makes it easy to take grass for granted: if the pasture looks green it must be healthy, and if we’re taking plenty of bales then it must be productive.

We don’t tend to think about grass as a crop, in the same way we regard wheat or barley. Yet modern grass varieties are as carefully bred and selected as any cereal variety, offering valuable new genetics that confer better quality, improved disease resistance, and a significant jump in yield potential. Einstein and Claire were wheat varieties in Recommended List of the early 2010s but now, ten years later, genetics have moved on and preferred varieties include Skyfall, Skyscraper and others.

The same happens with the Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL). The Royal Barenbrug Group & the Barenbrug-AFBI breeding partnership are breeding grasses for the future, and have over 46 varieties in the list over the last 30 years; new genetics are always just around the corner, bringing increases in ME or grazing yields, better winter hardiness or higher-scoring disease resistance.

Barenbrug want to help farmers view their grass as a crop that can be tweaked and nurtured and resown. Giving the crop what it needs to achieve its greatest return – farmers can absolutely turbo-charge this most productive of farm assets.

Research shows that one of the biggest barriers to reseeding old pastures is cost, in particular concerns about return on investment, Barenbrug has put value demonstration at the heart of Grow Your Future With Grass. It’s drawn on widely available industry figures, such as those from the RGCL and AHDB, to illustrate its thinking.

The true value of your grassland

An older or damaged sward may contain only 50% of the original sown species, delivering a yield potential of around only 7t DM/ha.

Yet reseeding with new varieties from the top of the RGCL, to reach over 80% sown species in a sward, could yield up to 15.5t DM/ha. Every extra tonne of DM delivers approximately 11,000 MJ ME; each litre of milk needs about 5.4 MJ ME.

For every extra tonne of DM, there’s the potential to produce nearly 2,000 litres of milk.

At around £900/ha, (at contractor rates) reseeding is a considerable investment but farmers should not to fixate on machinery, labour, fuel, seed and fertiliser. Instead look to the long-term benefits secured by reseeding – a crop that will yield continuously for at least five years and probably more.

Over the next few months, Barenbrug will use Grow Your Future With Grass to share with UK farmers the value and benefits of a well-managed grassland programme. Calling on their global breeding expertise and innovative research to transfer knowledge, fresh ideas and new thinking that can help them make more informed decisions.