How do you assess your grass covers?

Marking a scale of heights against cover values on a well-used pair of wellingtons is the easiest way to measure grass availability, according to CAFRE Beef Specialist Norman Weatherup.

Weatherup made the observation while presenting to this week’s Progressive Beef Production Conference, held at Greenmount College.

“It’s the totally convenient way of doing it and is just the job for those farmers who haven’t the confidence to accurately assess covers using the naked eye.

“The approach also saves on the expense of buying a plate meter,” he said.

Weatherup said that beef farmers must adopt a dairying approach to grassland management.

This means establishing a paddock system and then following this up with a commitment to re-seeding.

“However, the paddock approach will both increase grazed grass utilisation and encourage more productive species of grass to become established, without the need for re-seeding.”

He also pointed out that good soil management practises underpin every aspect of grass production.

“Soil compaction has become a major problem on many grassland farms. This is because the wheel and tyre sizes of machinery have not kept in line with the actual increase in their overall weight.”

Weatherup stressed that work to deal with soil compaction should only be undertaken at the end of the growing season and that the land should not be overly wet when sub soiling is undertaken.

It is important to ensure that a sub soiler is set up to ensure that the existing compaction problem is effectively dealt with while, at the same time, not creating a similar problem further down the soil profile.

The CAFRE lecturer confirmed that four out of five fields tested in Northern Ireland are deficient in Phospate, Potash, pH or a combination of all three contributors to soil fertility.

“Only half the amount of lime is [applied] in Northern Ireland now than would have been the case 30 years ago and yet, it is the miracle factor when it comes to improving soil fertility.

“Most of the soils in Ireland are acidic, well below the optimal value of 6.0.

“Increasing pH can make up to 70kg of Nitrogen per hectare available for plant growth purposes while nutrient availability is increased across the board as pH values rise.”

The beef conference was jointly organised by the Ulster Farmers Union, CAFRE, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute and the Livestock and Meat Commission.