The use of clover looks like it is going to become increasingly more important on Irish farms as input costs soar.
2021 saw nitrogen (N) fertiliser reach an all time high, with prices for 2022 not looking much better.
The Climate Action Plan has set a target of 325,000t as an absolute maximum of chemical N by 2030.
In 2018 chemical N usage stood at 408,000t, which makes this a target reduction of 83,000t.
Grass is the cheapest feed available to Irish farmers, costing farmers about 8c/kg compared to 35c/kg for a dairy ration, based on Teagasc figures.
Grass will remain key to Irish dairy farms’ production models, even with chemical N usage being reduced.
To achieve this target, clover has shown to offer many benefits to farmers for grass production, particularly from June onwards.
Looking back to the Teagasc Moorepark 2021 open day, the environmental, production and economic benefits of clover were highlighted.
On more than one occasion at the event, it was noted how clover can reduce the need for chemical N, particularly from June onwards.
It was also noted that once managed correctly, this reduced N application had very little impact on growth rates of these swards.
What the demonstration attendees would have seen at Moorepark were the clover growth trails – Teagasc advisors showed the growth rates from two clover swards.
Each plot was divided into a high-N and low-N plot. The high-N areas received 20 units of N/ac, and the low-N areas received 10 units of N/ac from June onwards – per round.
Clover trial from Teagasc Moorepark open day 2021:
The trail clearly shows that less chemical N is required to grow the same amount of grass in a clover sward.
It also shows that the extra fertiliser used was wasted, as no extra grass was grown in the high N plots.
Should you consider, if you have not already, trying some clover in your swards next year, have the following information in mind.
Over-sowing paddocks is a good option for farmers to establish clover in swards without needing to do a full reseed.
Forgetting about the emission target, chemical N is going to be expensive; using clover can reduce the need for chemical N by half from June onwards.
April and May is the best time of the year to incorporate clover into a sward, it will take 12 months for it to fully establish, which means the full benefits will not be seen untill then.