12th September 2022

Grass seed mixtures – making the right choice

Grass Seed Mixtures - Russell Lorraine Gaw NEWSRussell and Lorraine Gaw’s RG Contracting from Port William in Dumfries and Galloway, south west Scotland is responsible for the grass crop for a number of dairy farmers. Among these, is 81 hectares (200 acres) for the couple’s neighbour who, like most producers, wants a high yield of top quality grass silage in a quest to maximise milk production from home grown forage.

“We do all the seedbed preparation, drill the sward, apply fertiliser and then cut the grass,” says Russell who set up RG Contracting in 1995 and has developed the business from almost a one-man band supported by his wife Lorraine in the office for a few hours a week to a team of 14 with Lorraine full time in the office. Their success earned them a finalist place in Farmers Weekly Contractor of the Year Competition in 2015.

“I’m really a machinery specialist first and foremost, but I do know that we have to make sure all parts of the process are right,” he adds.

And when it comes to grass and forage crops, this means that operations have to be timely and efficient, and the grass seed mixture has to be of a high quality, with a proven track record. “The seed mixture is an integral part of the operation. We’ve taken advice from our local distributor, Lindsay Ker of LS Smellie, who recommended Sinclair McGill’s Scotsward. I have tried other mixtures in the past but this one seems particularly suited to this area.

“Our soil really likes it,” he says. “Our climate is influenced by the Gulf Stream and is very mild and wet which I think suits Scotsward. We get exceptional growth which means that we get three good cuts of silage each year. This is really important for the customer – he’s looking for plenty of good quality forage.”

And its usefulness through the year is attractive. The land is grazed by cattle after cutting then once they go indoors it’s grazed by sheep until the end of February. Slurry and fertiliser applications boost growth ready for first cut silage at the end of the first week of May.

“It never seems to stop growing,” adds Russell, admitting that while this mixture suits one area, it might not be the one in another area. “We always carry out a soil test and lime if necessary to get the right pH then maybe add phosphates to make sure the soil is in the right condition. And we always check out the grass seed mixture to make sure it’s the right one for the job. If we tick all the boxes and grow a high yielding and productive crop year on year it reflects well on us as contractors.”

When it comes to the Scotsward, Russell is impressed with its longevity as well as the high yields, seeing in some cases 10 years of productive life. This comes as no surprise to Limagrain UK’s grass seed manager Ian Misselbrook “Most mixtures designed for cutting are short term leys but Scotsward is a mixture of varieties that are persistent and productive for a longer period,” he says.

Having been involved in developing grass seed mixtures for the past 35 years for Limagrain’s portfolio, that includes the Sinclair McGill range, Mr Misselbrook knows the difference that a good seed mixture can make.

“Establishment is vital,” he says, adding that seed quality is one of the key components. “Our aim is to deliver less weed seed and more live seed than any other supplier. And it’s worth selecting a mixture with a good track record and known to have tolerance to diseases. We treat many of our mixtures with Headstart Gold, a biostimulant, which, combined with quality seedbed preparation and the recommended fertiliser applications, will help with establishment.”

But it’s the composition of the mixture that holds the key to sward and feed quality.

Scotsward, for example, has 12% Timothy in the mix. “Contractors like this as it makes the grass erect and easier to cut – it holds the sward up for the mower, and it’s a variety of grass that grows well after a harsh winter so it’s ideal in a mixture for using in wet or colder condition.”

Adding to the mixture’s suitability for silage making is the 41% mid and late season tetraploid perennial ryegrasses which provide a high sugar content and make for good fermentation. And the white clover blend in this mixture adds to the feed quality, boosting the protein content and providing minerals and trace elements.

“It’s a good idea to select a mixture that’s recommended for the purpose; be it grazing, cutting or dual purpose, and make sure it’s suited to the area. For example, the Sinclair McGill range highlights some mixtures suited to England and others more suited to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“It’s ‘horses for courses’ when it comes to making the right choice of grass seed mixtures, but if the most suitable mixture is used, then it will not hinder the operation, and high yielding crops of high quality feed can be delivered to the customer.”

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