AGRISEARCH is investing more than £400,000 in its flagship GrassCheck programme over the next
three years, with the next phase of seeking to expand grass growth monitoring bringing on board more farms.
Announcing the new investment, AgriSearch’s General Manager Jason Rankin said: “Over the last 23 years the GrassCheck programme has been fundamental in assisting ruminant livestock farmers maximise returns from grazed grass.
“This initiative led by AgriSearch, AFBI and CAFRE, in partnership with DAERA, has monitored year on year variations in grass growth providing valuable information to both farmers and policy makers during this time.
“With fertiliser prices more than tripling, and concentrate prices doubling for many farmers, the benefits of efficiently utilising high quality grass has never been so important in operating a sustainable and profitable farming system.
“Grazed grass and grass silage
remain the dominant and cheapest forage source in North-
ern Ireland, occupying an est-imated 93 per cent of the total farmed area. However, making efficient use of grassland takes careful management and can be challenging in some instances.
“The weather extremes exper-ienced in recent years has highlighted the variability in grass growing conditions across the Province. By incorporating farm data from across the Province these varying conditions can be better monitored and understood.”
He continued: “Grassland also
has an important role in sequestering carbon. Work con-ducted over the past 50 years at AFBI Hillsborough has shown that well managed grassland can sequester over 800kg of carbon per hectare per year.
“However, we recognise that these are changing times for agriculture and that GrassCheck needs to adapt to these challenges. The next phase of GrassCheck will seek to expand grass growth monitoring to include swards containing significant levels of clover and using low levels of manufactured N fertiliser.
“We are also planning to conduct baseline assessment on soil carbon across the GrassCheck network.”
AgriSearch has opened appli-cations for new farmers to become part of the “GrassCheck” network. Applications are being sought from dairy farms in Fermanagh and all farm types in Armagh, north and east Antrim, south Londonderry and north Tyrone.
Applications are also being sought from farms across North-ern Ireland who have significant levels of clover (approximately 20 per cent) present in their grassland swards and who sow low (or no) levels of manufactured N fertiliser.
GrassCheck farmers will be ex-
pected to measure their grazing platform on a weekly basis throughout the grazing season using a platemeter.
Grass measurements will be
entered into an online manage-ment platform (AgriNet) along with stock numbers, milk pro-duction figures, and details of meal and silage fed to cattle.
Fertiliser applications for all measured grassland will also be recorded regularly through the AgriNet system. On a fortnightly basis each farm will submit grass samples to AFBI for nutritional analysis.
A number of farms will also be equipped with a weather station that will automatically relay data to a control unit connected to
Benefits for participants include
having access to accurate grassland measurement inform-ation which they can use to plan grazing rotations and maximise grassland utilisation in the rot-ation.
Each farm will also have access to their laboratory results to help understand grass quality on farm, allowing for better planning of concentrate and feed rations to maximise grass in the diet.
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