Cope Seeds: The high cost of not reseeding

Cope Seeds warns that old leys can have a detrimental effect on milk and meat production costs
Cope Seeds warns that old leys can have a detrimental effect on milk and meat production costs.

The UK has more than 17 million hectares of managed grassland, yet much of it is poorly utilised. Leys that aren’t in good condition and are overrun with weed grasses that have little or no nutritional value can have a major impact on milk and meat production costs.

Grass and small seeds specialist at Lincolnshire-based Cope Seeds and Grain, Duncan Hendry, said that treating grass like any other arable crop, by selecting the right grass seed products for your farm, and reseeding regularly, can significantly affect the bottom line.

“Making a relatively small investment in your grass can have a major impact on its quality, productivity and utilisation,” he added. “A reseeding rate of just 10 per cent is enough to prevent a decline in grass productivity, while a 15 per cent rate will start to deliver real gains.”

Although a grass ley that has been down for over five years may look productive and healthy, the ley will not be producing to its full potential as by this time 50 per cent or less of the grass plants will be of the species that were sown, the rest being indigenous species such as rough stalked meadow grass, bentgrasses or Yorkshire fog.

“These species have yields well below that of perennial ryegrass, as well as being of poorer quality and lower digestibility.,” Mr Hendry said. “Another important characteristic of these weed grasses is their poor response to nitrogen, whether from organic fertiliser, clover or artificial sources, with rough stalked meadow grass giving a response of 17 per cent, bentgrass 33 per cent and Yorkshire fog 42 per cent to nitrogen compared to ryegrasses [WBPS figures].”

This means that a five-year-old ley will only be utilising 65 per cent of nitrogen applied.

Only one year after reseeding, undesirable weed species can account for up to 18 per cent of a sward. After four years this can have doubled to 38 per cent, and after eight years weed species can begin to dominate the sward up to 50 per cent.

“On average, an eight-year-old sward will yield approximately 5.5t/ha dry matter (DM), compared to a new sward’s potential yield of 15t/ha DM,” Mr Hendry said. “This means that the farm is missing out on two-thirds of the potential yield, which is a significant figure with a massive impact on profitability.

“Good quality grazed grassland is the cheapest feed for ruminant livestock and is the base upon which profitable farming is built.”

Currently only about two per cent of UK grassland is being oversown. This is a short- to medium-term option, but it does provide a quick fix and is ultimately an effective method of improving productivity – while keeping investment costs to a minimum.

“Implemented carefully, overseeding has the potential to improve pasture productivity by between 30 to 40 per cent for between three to four years, depending on field quality,” Mr Hendry said.

“When overseeding, it’s crucial to use a mixture designed specifically for this purpose. Any existing productive grasses in the ley already have an established root system and an established leaf canopy to capture light for photosynthesis. Any new grass seed that is introduced needs to be able to work with these conditions, and overseeding mixtures are blended accordingly.”