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WELSH PASTURE PROJECT 2017 REPORT

Fourteen farms from across Wales participated in the Welsh Pasture project during 2017 and indeed it proved to be an exceptional year for grass growth especially on farms with heavier soils. The dry period at the beginning of the year allowed for earlier growth as soil temperatures increased and the days lengthened. Unlike 2016, paddocks and fields were accessible by stock from the very beginning as soil conditions proved favourable for grazing and grass responded well to early applications of fertiliser.

Graph 1. Grass growth curves for Welsh Pasture Project for participating farmers

We see a similar rate and pattern of growth between Dairy, Beef & Sheep producers throughout March, April and May however growth fell away quicker on the farms which set stocked their animals compared to those which operated a shorter rotational period of grazing with targeted Nitrogen applications. Some lighter farms suffered with lower growth rates in May especially after 1st cut due to the low rainfall.

As the rain finally fell, most farms continued with good weekly growth rates well over 90 KgDM/Ha/Day throughout June, July and August. Although August and September was warm with good moisture levels in the soil, the quality of the grass was not as spectacular as the actual grass cover available due to overcast days and lack of plant exposure to sunlight. Grass growth continued well into October, however a very wet autumn meant clean grazing and any final late cuts of silage proving difficult to achieve. Some dairy farms especially on wetter ground would end up having a higher average farm closing cover than they would have liked and careful management of the grass wedge would be needed ahead of the spring 2018 turnout.

Within the 14 farms who participated in the project there was a range of grass measuring and management experience, one of the farms measuring for the first time was Nant yr Efail, Betws yn Rhos who from previous years of guesswork and assumption would now be able to accurately profile the growth rates and total tonnage grown within a nearby rented block of land. Graph 2 below shows the total tonnage grown for each paddock and the whole measured platform average of 9.39 Tonnes/Ha. Beef and Sheep farmer Gethin Owen from Nant yr Efail commented on how ahead of 2018 growing season he would be able to use the knowledge and experience from the project, to optimise his stocking rate, timing of turnout and manage better the grazing of sheep over winter. This would allow him to shape a wedge of grass and allow for earlier turnout of store cattle. Gethin said of his experience, “Measuring in 2017 has allowed me to better understand my paddocks, make better decisions and know what I need to improve the fencing and water infrastructure ahead of 2018”.

Graph 2. Total growth for Nant yr Efail platform from 24/2/2017 – 27/11/2017

One of the established spring calving dairy herds who has participated in both years of the project managed to grow an average of 15.5 t/Ha of grass over 290 Ha of ground in 2017, with almost all of it grazed within a rotational paddock based system. The data collected within the Welsh Pasture Project clearly highlights what potential there is in Wales to grow good quality grazed grass for all livestock types and reduce over reliance on expensive bought in feeds and compounds.

No two grass growing seasons are the same, however with measuring and recording comes good management allowing for the highest possible utilisation of grass available, whatever a years growth throws at you. Measuring for the project will begin again in February 2018.

Appendix

Table 1. Rainfall, Temperature and Sunshine in Wales 2016-2017 (Source: Met office statistics)

year

Winter  (December–February)

Spring (March-May)

Summer (June-August)

Autumn (September-November)

2016 Rainfall (mm)

725.7

276.9

320.7

298.6

2017 Rainfall (mm)

302.0

263.8

386.6

442.0

2016 Mean Temperature  (Degrees C)

6.4

8.02

15.11

10.06

2017 Mean Temperature  (Degrees C)

5.46

9.36

14.81

10.34

2016 Total hours sunshine

137.2

521.6

485.2

302.4

2017 Total hours sunshine

134.6

490.7

498.4

226.

Website link 1. Farming Connect soil temperature map

https://businesswales.gov.wales/farmingconnect/information-hub/soil-temperature

 

Website link 2. Farming connect Welsh Pasture Project Website

https://businesswales.gov.wales/farmingconnect/welsh-pasture-project