with Peter Burton
Functional Fertiliser Ltd
That permanent grazed pasture plants require a steady supply of nitrogen for optimum performance is not in question.
Nitrogen is usually supplied in one of two ways, either in the form of urea, or from the atmosphere fixed by bacteria on the roots of clovers, lucerne, and other legumes.
Without an ongoing supply of nitrogen low fertility grasses steadily encroach and eventually dominate. Annual production declines to 8 tonne DM/ha or less and farming becomes uneconomic.
At least in the short-term raising more money against increasing land values can no longer be relied on. Already banks are starting to play hard-ball and when interest rates increase the ability to borrow more will just get tougher.
During the last 40 years annual pasture production has declined from a top of 18,000kg/ha to around 14,000kg with the gap, in many cases, filled with low cost palm kernel extract.
The fundamental issue of declining pasture yield requires addressing for both individual farmers and the wider community. Higher incomes are required and the only viable way of achieving that is to grow more pasture at the same or lower cost.
A 30 per cent increase in annual production is achievable for most within a three-year period and increasing numbers of farmers are finding that it’s easier than they first thought.
A focus on grazing management is necessary and there’s some new concepts to take on board, however they are easily learnt.
In our view, clover will replace urea as the primary provider of nitrogen for pasture plants; particularly as environmental regulations steadily tighten.
Because clovers fix nitrogen in response to declining plant available levels, supply and demand is balanced and the amount lost to groundwater is significantly reduced.
Clovers in pastures come into their own as soil temperatures reach 20 degrees Celsius, often early in November, and given regular rainfall or irrigation provide a mat of highly nutritious feed during summer and early autumn.
Clover has a number of advantages over grasses during the main growing season. It’s higher in calcium than grasses and therefore the preferred feed for lactating and fast growing animals.
It’s also more readily digested and therefore animals are able to eat more, grow faster and produce more milk than is possible on a grass or multi species dominated pasture.
Lamb growth is unsurpassed on clover dominant pastures and earlier lambs nearly always receive a premium.
To promote clover, it is necessary to lift plant available soil calcium levels to above those required for grasses.
Experience over many years shows a soil pH of 6.2-6.3 works best. Interestingly, it’s also the pH at which earthworms and other beneficial soil dwellers operate efficiently.
Meat tenderness is correlated to its pH, which in turn is dependent on the pH of the feed being consumed and the soil that it is growing on.
There is no downside to clover dominant pastures during summer. A dense mat helps protect the soil surface from moisture loss and minimises weed growth.
Any unwanted plants are readily consumed by stock as they devour long strong stemmed clover with thumb nail sized leaves or larger.
Clover seed may be added to spring or autumn fertiliser to ensure the latest and greatest, however we’re yet to find a situation where clover hasn’t come to the fore when conditions and management have been favourable.
The key to vigorous clover during summer is not applying nitrogen from September onwards. Applied nitrogen encourages the growth of more upright species that then limit the amount of sunlight, moisture, and available nutrient.
Functional Fertiliser products, along with the knowledge and experience of their people are ideally placed to provide the resources necessary to ensure clover growth during summer is maximised.
For more information, call Peter on 0800 843 809.