Its that time of year wheneveryone starts thinking about making New Years resolutions and turning over anew leaf. To help farmers thinking about changing the way they manage their grasslandin 2015, Barenbrug agricultural grass and forage specialist has come upwith five simple steps designed to help improve fields, pastures and paddocks.
James Ingles, Head ofAgriculture at Barenbrug UK, said: Our work with farmers throughout 2014 hashighlighted a growing recognition that grass needs to be managed just like anyother crop. Weve devised these hints and tips to support farmers who have cometo this conclusion and decided to get a grip on their grassland during the yearahead. Although there is talk of poorer milk prices in the months ahead,livestock farmers shouldn’t let that determine whether or not they reseed. Newswards out-perform older grasses and should be much easier to manage if enoughthought goes into the mixture helping to improve profitability.
Step 1: Walk your fields: Look carefully at any areas of grassland. If grass isan unhealthy shade of yellowy green or if there is water lying on the surfaceafter rainfall, there could be a soil structure problem. Left untackled thiscould affect production and persistency levels later in the year causing thesward to fill up with weed grasses. This in turn will decrease yields andaffect spring growth significantly. Check for areas of bare ground where grassis thin or where weeds have already taken over especially common in feedingareas and around gateways. Look also for high and low areas where bare patchesmight occur, and damage caused by pests such as rabbits and moles.
Step 2: Look below the surface: If you think there is a problem, examine soilstructure. Basic nutrient tests are inexpensive and will help you understandthe levels of essential elements present. Digging a hole to examine the top fewinches, which are so important to the grass lifecycle, is also advisable anddoesnt cost anything. If there are signs of compaction, use either a swardlifter or aerator to alleviate the problem. The choice of tool will depend onthe depth of compaction. Shallow compaction, up to 20cms, can be corrected byslitting the field with an aerator. Deeper compaction is best treated using asward lifter, which will lift and shatter the soil, allowing deeper rootpenetration and a healthier soil.
Step 3: Deal with weeds: Tackle weed grasses immediately. They are usuallyshallow rooted and pull out very easily. If they make up more than 40% of thesward, harrow hard to remove them. With a sward of more than 70% weed grasses,the best option is to reseed.
Step 4: Prepare the ground: If overseeding is necessary, pick a mixture designedspecifically for renovation. Before seeding, harrow or rake vigorously with aspring tine or chain harrows. This can be carried out by machine or, for verysmall areas, by hand. The aim is to remove all dead material including shallowrooted grass and weeds in the base of the sward. Opening up the sward lets inair and light, allowing clean, fresh growth to come from the base of the plant.It also levels any molehills and highlights vulnerable parts of the field.
Step 5: Overseeding: After harrowing, use a grass mixture designedspecifically for the job in hand. The best time to reseed is when the ground ismoist and warm, and soil temperatures are above 8C. The ideal window in the UKis typically between April and September when conditions allow grass seeds togerminate and grow without competing against weeds. Rolling the ground aftersowing helps seed-soil contact to promote germination. Reseeding in theseconditions allows the plant to develop a good root structure that is ready tospread and grow the following spring, so quickly increasing grass cover.
Once any soil structureproblems have been addressed and reseeding has taken place, there is a goodchance of growing a healthy grass crop. Remember that all grass will benefitfrom feeding with fertilisers but take care not to apply during or shortlyafter sowing. New plants have no roots and are unable to take up nutrients sothe existing sward would be favoured, creating more competition for the newplants, says the company.