Improving soil and sward performance

The View from Northern IrelandGregg and David Somerville manage a herd of 200 crossbred cows near Dromara, Co Down. This Drumlin belt countryside receives on average more than 1000mm rainfall per year.

The past two wet summers have resulted in challenging grazing conditions on the farm with several areas showing signs of compaction and poaching damage.

A sward improvement workshop, organised by Martin Reel, dairy development adviser, Centre  for Agricultural, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) was held recent at the Somerville farm with input from Albert Johnston, senior grass technologist at CAFRE.

In order to improve soil and sward performance and ultimately grow more grass on the farm, a series of inspection holes were dug and assessment made of topsoil depth, compact layers, colour, smell, root depth and earthworm numbers.

From the different soil profiles, an informed decision was made on the best course of action to remedy compaction and drainage issues identified. A combination of subsoiling and gravel tunnels was recommended for different areas of the farm.

A portion of the farm was subsoiled in September 2012 and performance improvements in the sward could be seen during this year`s cold wet spring. Sward improvement by ploughing, stitching-in or rejuvenation are options for different parts of the farm and the different costs of each option were discussed.

In common with many farms this year, the quantity of first and second cut silage ensiled on the Somerville farm is below target to feed the herd for a planned six month housing period. This was established by carrying out a fodder budget. A standing crop of silage has been purchased to make up the deficit and during the winter, silage stocks will be monitored closely with the option of purchasing soya hulls to extend fodder supplies. Contact your local CAFRE advisor if you require more information on improving soils or if you need to assess fodder supplies. The link here can be used to complete your own budget.

Pictured Albert Johnston, Grassland Technologist CAFRE, discussing soil structure with Co. Down farmers at Gregg Somerville’s farm Dromara.

By Martin Reel, Dairy Development Adviser, CAFRE

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