Benefits and challenges of multi-species swards

Benefits and challenges of multi-species swards
Benefits and challenges of multi-species swards

This farm demonstration event was held on 1st August 2023, with 26 farmer, advisers, and representatives from seed companies in attendance. The farmers in attendance were a mix of those already growing multi-species swards and those interested in establishing them in the future.

The event began with an overview of the farming enterprise at Lemmington Hill Head and how the farmer, James Drummond, has found establishing and managing multi-species swards in Northumberland. This was followed by a discussion around some of the SUPER-G experimental and demonstration results from the region, including work carried out at Newcastle University’s Cockle Park experimental platform, assessing the impact of contrasting grass sward and mechanical loosening treatments on forage quality, plant diversity and soil water infiltration, and two different trials hosted at Lemmington Hill Head.

The first trial at Lemmington Hill Head assessed the impact of different combinations of herbs and fertiliser applications on nitrogen response, herb persistence and livestock performance. Overall, dry matter yields were similar across all seed mix treatments, and the results indicated that later applications of nitrogen fertiliser (i.e. in mid-summer, when clover had established within the sward) were not required. On this specific site, there was some indication that the addition of herbs increased lamb daily liveweight gain. However, set-stocking, which was a requirement for daily liveweight gain measurements, reduced the persistence of herbs as a result of preferential grazing.

The second demonstration assessed how the timing of establishment impacted herb persistence. A seed mix that included ryegrass, white clover, plantain, chicory, bird’s foot trefoil, sheep’s parsley, burnet and yarrow was used in four fields with four different timings. Overall, herb persistence was linked to initial emergence, which was found to be greater when rainfall followed sowing, with later sowings becoming dominated by grass species. Being on-site allowed attendees to see the visual differences in mixed-species swards between sowing times and to discuss how the swards are managed to encourage herb persistence. A block of soil was dug from the multi-species sward to examine the nodules on the roots of clover plants, with pink interiors indicating nitrogen fixation. There was further discussion at fields growing a multi-graze mix, oats undersown with multi-species and a multi-species sward in its fourth year (see above).

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