Leys that have been established for several years tend to be left to get on with it. Andy Collings reports on a how a different approach could pay dividends
Grass is a crop in its own right and, as such, if it is to perform to its maximum potential it needs to be managed and treated correctly, insists Godfrey Pudge.
A man who is clearly well informed on such matters, Mr Pudge runs a company which specialises mainly in grass care for parkland and sports fields but points out that when it comes to maximising output from grass for grazing or conserving, the management techniques are similar.
Based at Brampton Abbots, near Ross-on-Wye, the latest piece of machinery to arrive in the yard is an Opico Sward Lifter which is a tractor-mounted subsoiler designed to alleviate compaction in grassland and also aerate the soil.
“One of the biggest inhibitors to grass growth is compaction which reduces root development,” he says. “And it is a problem most growers choose to ignore simply because it’s a grass crop – even though they run all over it with their tractors several times a year and let half-tonne dairy cows walk across it all day.”
Mr Pudge adds that compaction also prevents drainage and results in waterlogged, poached areas which are totally non-productive. The waterlogging causes poor crop growth and the demise of productive grass species which are then replaced with indigenous grass which proceed to dominate the sward.
“I think the Sward Lifter is an interesting implement which could be a useful addition to the grassland farmer’s machinery line up,” he says.
With a working width of 2.7m (8ft 10in), three conventional subsoiler legs with shear bolt protection are fitted, spaced at 90cm (35in). They can, if specified, be fitted with wings to create a greater lift.
“Opico also offers a five-leg, 3m version but I think the compaction caused by the larger, heavier tractor required to pull it would nullify the very reason for it being there in the first place,” he says. “We operate ours behind a 100hp Same tractor.”
Key to the operation is the spring-loaded disc which precedes each of the legs to cut an opening slot in the turf and avoid soil being thrown up onto the surface. The legs can operate to a depth of about 35cm (14in) – a depth which Mr Pudge feels is about right although he says the ability to go a tad deeper would not be amiss in some conditions.
Helping to settle the ground immediately behind each of the legs is a spring loaded roller unit.
“The rollers do a reasonable job but I think that ground subsoiled in the spring and destined for silage or hay cuts would certainly benefit for a second rolling with a flat roll,” he says.
Operating speed really depends on the type of soil – Mr Pudge reports that in lighter soils he can travel at about 8kph (5mph) without causing too much surface disturbance. On stony brash land though, speed needs to be reduced to ensure stones are not brought to the surface.
“There also needs to be some moisture in the ground,” he says. “Particularly in heavy clay land that, if too dry and hard can rupture the surface as the hard, dry blocks are disturbed below,” he says.
Rejuvenating old pastures
Last autumn also saw him using the Sward Lifter as part of an overseeding system to rejuvenate older pastures.
“We used the implement initially to subsoil the area and then made a couple of passes with Opico’s tine seeder to place the grass seed,” he explains. “And the results have been quite encouraging – the added drainage provided by the Sward Lifter clearly helping the seeds to get established in some of the wetter places.”
It’s too early to be too precise what the gains are in terms of grass yield but Mr Pudge comments that visually, at least, the areas where he has used the Sward Lifter look well drained and in good condition and he is confident that these are set to perform well in the coming season.
“I understand other users of the implement are reporting earlier growth by as much as three weeks and are able to turn their stock out earlier as a result, which must be a real saving,” he says.