Red clover’s climate smart benefits for Irish farmers

Thursday 04.05.2023 , News

Climate change has made us think differently about the forage crops we grow for our livestock. 

Long recognised for its high protein content and good performance in dry conditions for profitable milk and meat production, red clover is now applauded for its climate smart properties too. The 2023 DAFM Red Clover Silage Measure is the latest illustration of agriculture's spotlight on red clover's central role in sustainable farming practices.

Germinal grass and forage expert Diarmuid Murphy explains why.

Climate friendly red clover root structure

We know the advantages of red clover include yields of 12 to 15 tonnes dry matter (DM)/ha and a protein content of 16% to 20%, leading to higher intakes and increased milk production and liveweight gain than on grass alone.

The plant's deep taproot also makes it more drought tolerant, meaning clover is valued in drier areas of the country. And this deep taproot is one of the things helping to make red clover a climate smart choice for forage production.

Red clover's climate smart benefits for Irish farmersRed clover's taproot improves soil structure, allowing water, oxygen and nutrients to move more freely and build soil fertility. This benefits not only the clover plant but also companion species, reflected in the high DM  yields of pastures containing red clover.

Nitrogen-fixing red clover reduces fertiliser use

Red clover also fixes nitrogen, taking it from the atmosphere and fixing 150 to 200 kg N/ha. Not only is this available to the plant itself and other species in the sward but the resiual nitrogen left in the soil feeds the following crop.

This helps reduce the need for artificial fertiliser, and with the EU Farm to Fork Strategy setting out the goal of reducing nitrogen fertiliser use by 20% by 2030, the pressure is clearly there.

Growing and harvesting red clover for silage

A red clover crop needs to establish well and be managed carefully in the first year. Unlike white clover, it grows from the crown which must be protected.

If damaged during harvesting, the persistency of red clover falls dramatically. For this reason, a cutting height of 7-8 cm is recommended.

Leaf damage must also be minimised to protect red clover's high protein content. Disengaging the mower conditioner and avoiding excessive handling of the crop once mown both help. The crop must also be wilted for up to 48 hours to achieve the required dry matter content of 25-30%.

Red clover's climate smart benefits for Irish farmersTo find out more, our Red clover guide has all the information you need for growing the crop successfully and achieving the best from red clover silage.

DAFM-compliant red clover silage mix

Germinal's Red Clover Intensive Silage mix is designed specifically to produce high-quality red clover silage. It offers all the climate smart benefits associated with red clover silage and is compliant with the 2023 DAFM Red Clover Silage Measure.

Longer-lasting Germinal red clover varieties 

Historically, persistency has been red clover's weakness, growing productively for just a couple of seasons, but Germinal's modern varieties continue to yield for at least four or five seasons. And our ground-breaking developments with red clover continue through our research and innovation team, Germinal Horizon.

Breeding lines with improved resistance to pest and diseases, particularly Sclerotinia and eelworm, and resistant wild ecotypes collected in Europe and Asia are being used to develop new industry-leading varieties.

Red clover's climate smart benefits for Irish farmersClimate smart forage essential 

The recent 2023 DAFM Red Clover Silage Measure aiming to reduce reliance on nitrogen fertiliser shows the direction of travel is very clear and reflects the value seen from introducing red clover into the sward.

With the bonus red clover brings to profitable livestock production, its position as a climate smart forage essential is undeniable.

Talk to Germinal about red clover

Contact an expert to learn more about the climate smart benefits of red clover.