Growers are reaping valuable rewards by incorporating grass into their farming systems, visitors to last month’s Groundswell event were told.
The two-day show on 22-23 June attracted thousands of growers and livestock producers to Lannock Manor Farm, Hertfordshire – all looking at ways to secure a more sustainable future for their businesses.
“Grass is no longer just grazing for sheep and cattle,” said David Linton, commercial manager for seed breeder Barenbrug. It delivers economic and enviironmental benefits too.
Scientific research from around the world – including by Barenbrug – demonstrates the ability of grass and mixed leys to deliver benefits beyond producing milk and good-quality, healthy meat.
“Every farm should be doing grass,” said Mr Linton. “We know grass mixtures can boost soil nitrogen levels, reducing our reliance on expensive artificial fertilisers. Growers following a grass ley with cereals have reported yield uplift of more than 5%, despite slashing nitrogen inputs by nearly a quarter.
“We also know that they’re vital in addressing climate change. Their ability to capture carbon gives the farming industry a second crucial role in society: we’re not just producing food but helping to solve the world’s most pressing problem.”
One of the largest UK breeders and producers of grass seed, Barenbrug has a network of growers, and researchers across the country. Growing demand means more than 9,000ha now under grass seed production.
The company produces and distributes more than 4,500 tonnes of grass seed each year. Some 90% of the grasseed is grown in the UK. A trials and research site in Worcestershire provides the base for much of Barenbrug’s development work.
On arable farms, grass-rich buffer strips can provide protection against loss of soil and nutrients during soil-disturbing activities such as root-crop harvesting, while increasing the farm’s value for biodiversity.
Growers are also using grass to reintegrate livestock into their arable systems – sometimes using virtual fencing technology so animals graze within set perimeters without any physical barriers.
Farm consultant James Daniel, managing director for Precision Grazing, says Nofence virtual fencing technology is a game-changer for farmers and grazers looking to integrate livestock into arable systems.
“The synergistic relationship between livestock and crop production – forage and arable – is key to setting up a successful and sustainable regenerative system,” he explains.
Forage and arable
Experts in virtual fencing, Nofence uses a combination of GPS, cellular communication and a smartphone app to create virtual perimeters which can be monitored and changed remotely according to livestock needs.
“The fertility gains from grazing animals are considerable, with substantial reductions in artificial fertilisers possible,” says Synne Foss Budal, the company’s UK general manager.