4 February 2000


Red clover is increasing in popularity for providing

home-grown protein with low inputs. Jessica Buss finds out

how one new grower is getting on with the crop

LEARNING to live without fertiliser and pesticides has encouraged Shropshire producer John Downes to try red clover silage as a replacement for maize and fodder beet.

The results so far are pleasing and its expected to be more reliable than white clover for producing forage in dry summer weather, says Mr Downes. It has also reduced the level of protein needed in concentrate.

Mr Downes has spent many years mastering white clover management at The Farm, Longnor, Shewsbury, and was on one of the study farms for a Milk Marketing Board white clover project that ended in 1995. He became interested in red clover as a replacement for fodder beet and forage maize because the farm is in organic conversion.

"We needed to find a crop that could just produce winter forage within a short cropping rotation, and were told red clover was better than white."

Red clover fits in with the rotation at the other farm, where the dairy herd doesnt graze. It can follow two years of cereals and be drilled into set-aside in spring for cutting that autumn.

"Red clover has to be grown in rotation because its prone to sclerotinia and eelworm. Well try to keep it in a rotation with two cereal crops and then set-aside, followed by a two-year red clover ley. Beans may also be incorporated into this rotation to provide more home-grown protein for cows."

Mr Downes says last years 5ha (12 acre) crop was drilled in April and topped for weeds twice before a first cut could be taken in September.

"We had a good take using 4kg/acre of Merviot red clover and 3kg/acre of a hybrid ryegrass." Merviot is high in water soluble sugar, making it easier to ensile than most red clover varieties which are low in sugar. With a high sugar it should ferment better, he adds.

This was not his first crop of red clover. He tried 2.4ha (6 acres) drilled after wheat in 1997 and took four cuts from the crop in its second year. "But the spring-sown crop this year established better." He may even keep it down for a third year.

"Providing the ryegrass is good, we will still have grass to cut even if red clover recedes."

Mr Downes drilled to a shallow depth to ensure accuracy at a low seed rate and set a 11cm (4.5in) gap between rows. When drilling white clover, it fills in the gaps between the rows. But red clover grows differently and doesnt spread unless it is allowed to seed.

Some slurry and composted farmyard manure will be applied when possible to raise soil P and K levels because no inorganic fertiliser is permitted while in organic conversion.

Red clover is also said to be compete well with weeds. "Organic farmers say red clover competes well against docks, so we are trying it against docks on another 3.5 acres."

This year, Mr Downes hopes to take three cuts of red clover silage, following grazing with ewes and lambs in April.


&#8226 High yields.

&#8226 Competes with docks.

&#8226 Can be grazed.

Red clover silage is proving popular with cows, and John Downes believes the crop is potentially well suited to organic management on The Farm.

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