Grass season kicks off

Beef and sheep farmers have been urged to turn attention to their pasture and ensure grass growth gets off to the best start for the 2011 season.

The first few results for GrassWatch, an EBLEX initiative to monitor grass growth run in association with Farmers Weekly, are now available at These show some pastures across the UK have already put on significant growth.

“The reseeds and those with a high ryegrass content are starting to grow, providing the nutrients are there,” notes independent expert Charlie Morgan. “The soil temperature has hit 5C at 10cm depth, which is a key indicator swards will respond to nitrogen or slurry applications. Fortunately it’s not too wet, so conditions should be right to begin spring management.”

Results from last year’s GrassWatch show overall yield of grass varied enormously – the lowest recorded was just 0.8t/ha DM on the South Downs at Plumpton College; while Newton Rigg in Cumbria clocked the highest estimated yield at 12t/ha DM.

“This underlines the importance of monitoring your grass growth, and that starts now,” says Mr Morgan. “We’re back to normal growth this season, rather than the delay we saw in 2010. There’s not a lot of response yet from old pastures, and harder frosts and some snow in the north will certainly have checked growth over the past 10 days. But in the south, recent re-seeds are responding well already and need careful management.”

Focus your efforts on these fields, he advises, which will need nitrogen and tight grazing, unless they are being shut up for silage. Swards where last autumn’s late burst of growth was not grazed down will need extra attention, Mr Morgan points out.

“There will be a lot of dead material that needs to be removed. Keep stocking rates high and then follow up with a grass harrow.” The dead grass will shadow out new growth, while decaying material will use up nitrogen reserves, he warns.

At current fertiliser prices, clover is worth up to £130/ha. But growers with conventional swards need to push on with an early nitrogen application before the clover’s nitrogen-fixing kicks in.

“Clover growth will lag grass growth by about five to six weeks. So push the grass early, then graze it off, ready for the grass and clover to then come through together.”

As grass growth accelerates, the key to using it effectively will be to monitor growth and cover, managing grazing to keep sward height at 4cm for sheep and 6-8cm for cattle.

“With feed and input prices where they are, good sward management will really pay dividends this year. Getting this right in the first third of the season will determine the success of the next two-thirds of the growing period, so the steps you take now are critical,” concludes Mr Morgan.

What is GrassWatch?

Grasswatch logoGrassWatch gives you an indication of grass growth and quality in your area, so you can improve sward productivity. It’s an initiative run by EBLEX in association with Farmers Weekly to help beef and sheep farmers get better value from their grassland and achieve better herd or flock performance. Throughout the season, grass growth and quality at eight college farms across England is monitored, with the results posted fortnightly on FWi.

How do you find the results?

Go to the GrassWatch page, where you’ll find the latest news on grass growth and an interactive map. From the map, follow the link to the page for the college farm nearest you. There you’ll find details of three different fields being monitored at each farm and the latest results for cover, growth rate and D-value.

How does this relate to your farm?

The colleges have chosen good, bad and average sites, which include new re-seeds and environmental grazing. Whatever your farming system, you should find there are sites applicable to your situation. These give you an idea how your pastures will be performing. Using this data as a reference, monitor your own grass growth to help you plan your grazing throughout the season. Last year’s data is there too, with notes on what the graphs mean, to help you interpret the results.

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