30 June 2022
At 430 metres at its highest point, the land farmed by John and Sarah Yeomans and their family can be a challenging environment for growing grass on the shoulders of the season but by incorporating timothy into seed mixes leys are yielding an average of 10tDM/ha.
Timothy can grow when the soil temperature is at 0C and the air temperature is +5C.
It is the main grass species grown in Finland where it is normal to have ice and snow in April, just weeks ahead of first cut in June.
After visiting Finland on a Farming Connect Management Exchange Programme, Mr Yeomans has been trialling its use on wet, deep peat soil in his beef and sheep system at Llwyn y Brain, Adfa, near Newtown, where he and his wife farm with their sons, Tom, Jack and Joe, and their partners, Grace and Mikaela.
That trial, part of three-year European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Wales study with input from Finnish grassland specialists Anu Ellä and Jarkko, has now concluded.
The results have convinced Mr Yeomans that timothy will have a place in his system going forward.
Leys that established well in 2019 averaged more than 12tDM/ha in 2021, providing valuable feed for 58 ewes and lambs per hectare for nearly three months and extending late season growth considerably.
“It lifted productivity massively from May to late June,’’ Mr Yeomans reports.
In 2022 the percentage of timothy in one of the plots increased to 25% - up from around 10% in 2020.
Independent grassland specialist Chris Duller, who has been providing technical input into the EIP project together with Dr Iwan Owen, of IBERS, said similar small increases in timothy were observed in some of the other original plots too, those which had experienced challenging establishment conditions due to exceptionally high levels of rainfall.
Only 40kgN/ha had been applied up until the end of June – it is likely to total 80kg in 2022 compared to 120kgN/ha in 2021 because difficult ground conditions had prevented a spring application.
During a recent joint EIP Wales and Farming Connect open day at Llwyn y Brain, Mr Duller said a key finding from the trial was that timothy had grown as well as ryegrass in all but one of the plots.
There was no difference in the protein and energy values of timothy and ryegrass, despite an expectation that the quality of ryegrass would be higher.
But the trial had suggested that the highest percentage of timothy that could be achieved in any of the plots was 25%, whatever the sowing rate of the seed.
“Going forward it suggests that if we want to increase the diversity of grass then we need to think about increasing the percentage of multi species leys which include other grass varieties too,’’ said Mr Duller.
Understanding the longevity of timothy compared to ryegrass - a key benefit of this species - can only be known further down the line, he said.
But the three-year timescale of the EIP project is one that Mr Yeomans is grateful of. “You have to trial something for three years to know whether or not it will work because in a shorter timeframe results can be skewed by an exceptionally good year or exceptionally bad one.’’
Farmers in Finland have doubled yields from grass leys mostly made up of timothy by adopting a range of strategies including using more diverse seed mixes.
With advice from Proagria national grassland consultants Anu Ellä and Jarkko Storberg some growers are now achieving 10.6tDM/ha annually compared to 5,480kg DM/ha 10 years ago.
But by reseeding with new seed mixtures every three to four years, performance has improved considerably, Ms Ellä told farmers at the open day.
The traditional timothy and fescue silage leys they had grown previously were hardy enough to withstand harsh winters and deep snow followed by intense hot summers but annual overseeding was common because leys became patchy due to losses.
This has been resolved by using diverse mixes – the most popular mix is one incorporating 55% timothy, 15% tall fescue, 15% meadow fescue, 15% perennial ryegrass and at least 4-5kg of a blend of red, white and alsike clover.
Sowing rates for a complete reseed are as high 30-35kg to allow for winter losses, and overseeding is done at a rate of 10kg/ha.
As timothy seed is far smaller than ryegrass, shallow sowing is crucial, said Mr Storberg – he recommends planting seed no deeper than 1cm as any deeper and establishment is likely to be reduced and there is a high risk that weed grasses will fill the gaps.
Grass is established using broadcast sowing to improve cover and sward density to protect against cold.
A good soil and seed contact is needed when surface seeding.
Ms Ellä advises a three to four year rotation. “Any longer and there will only be timothy left in the last year without successful over-seeding,’’ she says.
Good density going into the winter prevents problems the following year and grass grows at 350kg/day before first cut.
Fields should be walked regularly to inform decisions on over-seeding in early spring or late summer.
Analysing swards ahead of cutting is important too as cutting too soon can result in a major loss in yield because in the last 15 days before first cut daily growth averages 200-400 kg DM/ha.
But if the peak cutting day is missed timothy will quickly head and that will result in a nutritional penalty.
The recommended mowing height is 10cm to allow better regrowth.
Mr Storberg advises choosing diverse grass mixes containing timothy for improved winter hardiness and tall fescues for drought survivability.
Meanwhile, diploid perennial ryegrasses, alsike clover and white clover are over-sown in the spring to replace that lost to winter kill and increase D-value and palatability of second and third silage cuts.
LLWYN-Y-BRAIN FARM FACTS
110ha farmed – 53ha classed as hill
Closed flock of 540 mainly Beulah ewes
85 suckler cows and replacements
Regular soil testing and liming