GrassCheck: Testing samples ‘essential’ for a good first cut

The recent growth spurt has put grass growth almost back on par with the April average, the latest GrassCheck figures show.

However, with high levels of variability in quality, researchers are advising farmers to test grass samples before mowing their first cut.

Good growth during the last two weeks of April led to a total monthly yield of 1.28t DM/ha – only marginally behind the long-term average of 1.33t DM/ha.

This week, the GrassCheck plots in Hillsborough and Greenmount both managed well above the 70.5kg DM/ha/day expected.

However dry matter and metabolic energy levels were both higher in the on-farm samples.

This past week, sheep farms saw significantly lower growth compared to dairy or beef counterparts. Sheep farms averaged 37.8kg DM/ha/day compared with an average of 69.9kg DM/ha/day recorded on dairy farms.

Locally, the highest growth was seen in the north-west at 71.1kg DM/ha/day. Meanwhile, growth was lowest in Co. Down where rainfall was also low.

Strong growth is expected to continue into this week, with Balmoral week expected to see growth arrive back at the 10-year average.

This week’s GrassCheck management notes advise:

  • First cut silage has begun for some farms. Ensilability analysis is showing good sugar contents but a wide range in nitrate concentrations, with high levels where fertiliser has been applied later than normal.
  • Testing samples before cutting will be essential to ensure good-quality first cuts.

Established in 1999, the GrassCheck project aims to provide up-to-date grass information to assist farmers with grassland management decisions.

Operated by AgriSearch and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), the project monitors weekly grass growth as well as quality and provides seven and 14-day grass growth rate forecasts.

In 2017, the project included 35 farmers across a variety of systems spread around Northern Ireland. This year the number of farms involved increased to 50.