|Beneath the surface
with David Law
Multi-species pasture is a hot topic amongst farmers at the moment, brought to the fore by the popularity of the regenerative farming movement.
But farmers interested in planting a multi-species pasture would be wise to consider that what grows successfully in another region with different climate or soil types may not grow successfully on their own farm.
There is no point rushing in and planting a 15-species pasture mix when only 10 are going to emerge.
It really is a very individual thing; rather than applying the broad brush-stroke that is a general multi-species pasture mix, farmers need to do their homework and find out what will work for them.
Total Replacement Therapy demonstration farm owner Alan Law has been exploring multi-species pasture options as part of his transition to a more regenerative way of farming.
Alan, who has reduced his synthetic nitrogen to only 35 units/ha under the Total Replacement Therapy programme, is planting a multi-species pasture mix in mid-March that includes diploid ryegrasses Trojan 150 and Governor, plantain, cocksfoot, fescue and three types of clover: Kotuku, Weka white clover and Morrow red clover.
The mix will be planted at 31kg/ha on an area of 4.5ha that has just come out of maize.
Alan says although some might consider his multi-species pasture mix a little “conservative”, he is comfortable transitioning slowly from a ryegrass-dominant pasture.
“We really just want to dip our toes in to start with,” says Alan.
“We aren’t prepared to throw money around when it comes to experimenting with seed.
“I’ve spoken to local farmers who have tried new pasture species’ which have not performed or survived because it wasn’t suitable for their farm.
“I’m very mindful that different regions require different species, and I’m not sure that the 12-15-species ‘one size fits all’ pasture mixes would stand up to the rigours of our more intensive rotational grazing system.”
Finding a way forward
Alan is one of many farmers who have experienced poorly persisting ryegrass cultivars in the past, and last season started along the multi-species route by incorporating chicory and plantain into his pasture, as well as three species of clover.
“We were a little disappointed in the chicory germination which was over sowed last autumn – we have since discovered it germinates better if planted directly into the soil – but the plantain planted on our Oriini farm last spring has really performed this summer.
“In the next 12 months we plan to plant plantain over the other half of the Oriini farm and the whole home farm.
“Farmers will be following the DairyNZ plantain trial with interest as it appears its inclusion in pasture can reduce nitrogen concentration in animal urine and increase nitrogen uptake from the soil by plants, improving the farm’s nitrogen use efficiency. It could be another tool for farmers to consider.”
Alan says their aim going forward is clear.
“Our objective is to find a good multi-species pasture that can stand up to the rigours of rotational grazing and performs well across all four seasons of the year.”
It is important to note that soil fertility also plays a part in germination.
If the nutrients are not present in the soil, the new grasses that are planted will not have the energy to get going, let alone stay over a period of time.
Although these new grasses and clovers will eventually fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and build fertility over time, they still need nutrients to get established.