“Farmers are right to tap into contractors’ knowledge,” says Limagrain UK’s John Spence. “They know what grows well in the area and what doesn’t, and they know what their customer is looking for.”
But keeping up to date with new and more productive mixtures is no mean feat. “We have more information on the agronomy and the feed value of different varieties and mixtures than ever before,” adds Mr Spence. “And there is a growing gap between the best and the worst. While it might be tempting to go for the ‘best offer’ or the most easily available, a more informed and discerning choice of grass seed mixture can often pay dividends.”
“Establishment is vital,” he says, adding that seed quality is one of the key components. “As a seed supplier, 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 tolerance to diseases.”
Seed treatments can be highly cost-effective and beneficial. “This is why the majority of seeds, in both Limagrain’s Monarch and Sinclair McGill ranges, are treated with the biological stimulant Headstart Gold. This treatment will reliably promote faster establishment and encourage higher plant numbers and stronger seedlings.
Soil type, climate and topography will influence the choice of grass seed mixture, but it’s equally important to consider the end use. “Is the sward going to be grazed or mainly for cutting? Or perhaps it’s a dual purpose sward? And is it a short, medium or long term ley? These are all considerations,” says Mr Spence.
Take the popular tetraploid and diploid ryegrass mixture Maxiyield from Monarch. “This is very high yielding and fast growing and produces high quality silage, giving maximum production over two years. But if aftermath is required for grazing, the medium term ley Maxicut is a good choice and will last for four years or longer.
The importance of the mixture composition is also reflected in Sinclair McGill Scotsward; a mixture of mid and late perennial ryegrass with 12% Timothy and white clover known for its high yields and longevity.
“Scotsward will reliably produce two high yielding cuts of quality silage plus grazing aftermath. And the inclusion of Timothy makes this popular with contractors as it makes 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 conditions.”
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 ‘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.”
Grass seed mixtures can now go well beyond their growing characteristics.
It’s no longer just about selecting varieties for their ease of establishment, yield potential, drought resistance or longevity. Nutrition has stepped into the mix – literally.
Grass seed mixtures can now combine varieties with top performances and that complement each other for grazing and/or silage making, but that also add to the nutritional value of the crop – perhaps for more protein rich silage, or perhaps a higher energy forage or grazing crop.
“Limagrain has used Near Infra Red Spectroscopy to measure the nutritional properties of a plant variety and it has introduced an accreditation – LG Animal Nutrition or LGAN – for grass seed mixtures, as well as maize varieties. Supported with reliable data, this accreditation confirms that the mixture meets the required agronomic and nutritional criteria.
Trials carried out at the independent Schothorst Feed Research Institute, based in The Netherlands, compared a Limagrain LGAN dual-purpose tetraploid grass seed mixture with a good quality conventional grass mixture fed in a ration with maize, soyabean and rapeseed meal and ground wheat.
Results showed that cows fed on the LGAN grass silage averaged 1.4 litres a day more than cows fed silage produced using a conventional grass seed mixture.
Feed value was also better. The digestibility and energy value of the diet improved by 3% and there was a 5% improvement in overall feed efficiency. This would add 427litres per cow to a 8500 litre average which would contribute to a higher milk income and margin per cow.
The grass seed mixtures’ enhanced nutritional benefits are particularly relevant as producers look to reduce production costs to help curb some of the effects of the volatile milk price.
A highly productive grass sward will encourage more milk from forage and this is key to the success of livestock units. “There are a lot of factors that play a part in achieving this, but productive grassland and using a reliable, productive grass seed mixture ‘fit for purpose’ should be high on the priority list.”