There has been a growing interest in multi-species swards driven by positive results in terms of the advantages they can offer as different species bring different benefits to the sward.
Some species will be nitrogen fixing, while others will be deep rooting, and so, bring more minerals up from lower down in the soil. Deeper rooting species have the potential to be more resilient in drought conditions. Some species such as chicory have anecdotal evidence of anthelmintic benefits and reduce worm counts in lambs. From a biodiversity perspective, the more species present in a sward, the greater potential benefit to insect populations.
There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to incorporating multi-species into ‘conventional’ farming systems in Ireland. Germinal Ireland, alongside Andre Van Barneveld from Graise Consultancy, a pasture based dairy farm consultancy, are supporting Martin Ryan, Cashel, Co Tipperary with his incorporation of multi-species swards into his dairy farm. The objective for Germinal is to observe how certain species perform on a typical Irish dairy farm. Another such farmer that Germinal Ireland is working alongside is William Hutchinson, Chapelizod, Kells, Co Kilkenny, who operates a substantial herd of commercial sheep and pedigree ewes. These initiatives allow Germinal to ascertain the opportunities for Irish farmers in incorporating multi-species swards into their otherwise traditional grazing platforms.
It is still early days for multi-species and reports show there are some distinct challenges. One of the main reasons we do not have greater uptake of multi-species swards at farm level, is the limitation of weed control options. If herbs such as plantain, chicory or others are being incorporated, then they cannot be sprayed for weeds or they will also be killed. Herbs tend to be less persistent than perennial ryegrass or white clover in a mixture; generally with a lifespan of 3-5 years.
In some cases in Ireland, farmers have reported multi-species quickly disappearing (within 2 years). The objective for Germinal is to find alternative species that provide enough benefit that will also persist long enough to justify their use.
In terms of incorporating multi-species swards into dairy herds, varieties must be willingly grazed by dairy cows as well as young stock. Additionally, the multi-species swards need to be able to be managed within the normal rotation length and within residual level targets used in these systems.
Tipperary farm data
In the case of Martin Ryan’s farm in Cashel, we investigate the options for introducing herbal species at a later stage following initial establishment of a mono-culture tetraploid PRG followed by post emergence weed control.
The method and findings from 2019 have been reported as follows:
- Existing sward was sprayed off using Roundup at recommended rate on the 10th March 2019. This was then left for 20 days before soil was tilled using discs, power harrow and roller
- 15Kg AberClyde per acre was sown on the 3rd of April
- Post emergence spray using Legumix was applied at the recommended rate on the 21st of May
- Grazed on the 25th of May
- 5Kg white clover, 1Kg Tonic plantain/Puna chicory mix, 0.75Kg Sainfoin/Birdsfoot Trefoil broadcast on the 27th May followed by grazing with the milking herd
- Fertiliser used was 3000G/acre slurry pre power harrow, 3 bags/acre 10-10-20 7 days post sowing PRG, 1 bag/acre of 18-6-12 post emergence, 1 bag/acre 0-10-20 at time of post emergence spray 16th
The sward was assessed on the 20th of July and showed a strike success of herbal varieties as <1%. It was only present where the post emergence spray had missed. A second attempt was made on the 9th of August when a mix of white clover, Puna chicory and Tonic plantain was stitched in using a seed drill. The two weeks that followed was very dry but good emergence was achieved once moisture came in late August.
The next Germinal Ireland webinar (register here) to take place on September 10th will host Germinal's Dermot Campion and Teagasc Advisor Sandra Hayes for an interactive session where there will be an opportunity to discuss more on multi-species swards and have your questions answered throughout the session.
The objective of this session is to give us an opportunity to hear directly from you and share knowledge back and forth on how modern, sustainable and profitable farming is achieved through great grassland management. To partake in this webinar, follow Germinal on social media on which the link to join will be available soon.
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