This demonstration event attracted 46 farmers and advisers to Crediton where the ADAS SUPER-G team led discussions outlining the ways grassland swards can be managed to benefit the farming enterprise. The event began with an indoor discussion of results from two sites in Devon, both concerning the establishment of, and challenges and benefits of multi-species swards in permanent grassland.
The two sites in Devon highlighted different challenges. The Elbury Farm site was an organic grazing livestock farm where organic status means that establishment methods are limited to ‘non-chemical’, mechanical methods to suppress the existing grass sward and introduce new plant species. The trial compared 5 different mixes (grass-clover, ‘carbon storage’, ‘tannin rich’, ‘mixed grass’, and ‘pollinator’) of multi-species swards (MSS) overseeded into an existing long-term permanent pasture containing clover and herbs, including plantain. The existing sward performed comparably to all the sown seed mixes in terms of grass quality and dry matter yield.
The second Devon site (Town Barton) was a conventional dairy farm where demonstration plots were established to compare the existing sward with the introduction of grass-clover established using two different methods: ‘cultivation’ (rotovator and drill) and ‘direct drilling’. Overall, the ‘cultivation’ method was the most effective means of increasing clover content in the sward, although initial establishment was poor and there were issues with cows preferentially grazing these higher clover content swards resulting in more bare ground on the ‘cultivation’ plots. For comparison, results from a SUPER-G multi-species grazing trial run by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland (AFBINI) showed that dairy-origin calves rotationally grazed on multi-species swards showed higher liveweight gain than calves rotationally grazed on grass-clover.
Following on from the discussions, John Morgan of Creedy Associates, outlined how the establishment of multi-species swards is compatible with a new agri-environment scheme for England, known as the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) 2023. The group then visited the demonstration plots at Town Barton Farm where the host farmers and the ADAS team outlined the challenges of establishment – including poor initial establishment of sown species on cultivated plots. The field visit also provided an opportunity to discuss the importance of clover within a sward and examine clover root nodules providing additional nitrogen to the surrounding sward.