Pioneering Grassland Project Enters Second Year

A Ceredigion farmer has seen multiple benefits from a pioneering grassland initiative that links together farmers from all parts of Britain to benchmark their productivity.

Grassland is an important factor in Welsh agriculture and helps to create a sustainable way of farming with less artificial input than in some other parts of the world.

GrassCheckGB aims to improve grassland productivity and pasture utilisation on fifty beef, sheep and dairy farms across GB including nine beef and sheep farms in Wales. As part of the project, farmers will measure grass weekly through the growing season, which typically runs from March to October, taking grass samples regularly to measure nutritional quality.

This project is a collaboration between Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) together with CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock) and researchers at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Rothamsted Research, as well as industry sponsors Germinal, Waitrose & Partners, Sciantec Analytical, Datamars Livestock and Handley Enterprises Ltd. CIEL is supporting the purchase of equipment on farms through funds from Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency.

Farmers participating in the project are able to record data such as temperature, rainfall and sunlight levels with a weather station installed on their farms, and the information gathered will enable researchers to make predictions of future growth and report to the industry on a weekly basis.

Ceredigion farmer, Dyfrig Williams has seen many benefits of being part of the project on his farm outside Aberystwyth. He explains: “It’s a great opportunity to benchmark against other farms. I had no idea before how much grass we grew at home, but since having the plate meter, I’ve been measuring weekly and we know how much grass we grow throughout the season and are able to compare this with other farms.

“With the weather station, we can see how much it’s rained and the temperature so that we can compare with farms in other areas. You might think that you’re not doing as well as other farms, but by looking at the weather station you might see that it’s been extremely dry compared to other farms. As part of the weather station, you can measure soil temperature and soil moisture to know how much it should grow.”

Dyfrig Williams , GrassCheckGB project farmer

GrassCheckGB was launched in December 2018 with the intention of understanding, managing and manipulating grass growth to improve productivity and efficiency.

Looking ahead at the new grazing season Nia Davies, HCC Research and Development Officer explains, “Last year’s grazing season saw an average yield of 9.2 tonnes of dry matter per hectare on Welsh beef and sheep farms. The data recorded in stations across Welsh farms for 2019 have shown that growth rates are directly affected by soil moisture and temperature.

“Wales has been faced with mild conditions for most of the winter, and several farms have recorded soil temperatures of over 6⁰C in January, meaning that some grass growth is likely to have occurred between October and January. However, weather stations have recorded a very wet start to the 2020 grazing season with some stations recording over 450mm of rain in February. This is likely to have an impact on the 2020 grazing season which will be monitored by farmers throughout the year.”

Nia Davies, HCC Research and Development Officer

Weekly summary bulletins are published throughout the grazing season on the GrassCheckGB website and on twitter (@GrasscheckGB) which show details of average farm grass growth rates, soil conditions and weekly total rainfall across the country.

The work was financed from the £2 million fund (rising to £3.5m in April) of AHDB red meat levies ring-fenced for collaborative projects which is managed by Britain’s three meat levy bodies – AHDB, HCC and QMS. The fund is an interim arrangement while a long-term solution is sought on the issue of levies being collected at point of slaughter in England for animals, which have been reared in Scotland or Wales.