Grass Check GB man walking

How farmers have been making the grass greener…

For 3 years, the GrassCheckGB team have been evaluating practical research-based improvements for grassland productivity and pasture utilisation. Despite some challenging weather conditions, the findings have highlighted the ability of British grassland to produce high quality grass. As the third year comes to a close, the project team look back on what’s been learned & how industry can get involved.

Findings

Over the past 3 grazing seasons, the GrassCheckGB farm network have been measuring their grassland on a weekly basis. Grass measurements were fed into an online management platform along with stock numbers, milk/meat sales and details of concentrates and silage fed. Each farm submitted regular grass samples for analysis and were equipped with an automatic weather station, provided through support from InnovateUK. Throughout the project, this data provided a valuable source of weekly local & regional grass growth updates with focussed management tips produced for the farming community.

The project has recorded unusual patterns in grass growth due to some very variable weather conditions. None of the grass growth curves recorded over the past 3 years could be described as ‘typical’, with periods of both very good and very challenging grass growth and grazing conditions experienced. Despite this, the project has demonstrated the potential of British grassland to provide substantial quantities of high-quality grass. Project farmers achieved average yields of 11.1, 9.5 and 9.4 t DM/ha/yr of grazed grass in 2019, 2020 and 2021 respectively, and exceptional grass utilisation (averaging 80.1% in 2020).

Find key info from https://grasscheckgb.co.uk/11-grasscheck-summary/113-grasscheck-summary-table-3

Why is this important? Grassland is a hugely important part of British agriculture, with ruminant livestock and green pastures being a quintessential part of our countryside, as well as providing a nutritious source of food. Grasslands and grazing lands account for over 70 per cent of the UK’s farmed area, and with an ever-growing population, ensuring these areas are used efficiently to produce nutritious and sustainable food is vital.

It’s so important that farmers are involved with projects like GrassCheckGB. We can help researchers by bringing practical knowledge ;and researchers can help us with the evaluation and translation of our real data into useable tools

Andrew Brewer, GrassCheckGB farmer, Cornwall.

Along with clear sustainability benefits, improving grass utilisation is a key driver of profitability on farm. It is estimated that each additional 1 tonne DM utilised per hectare is worth £334 and £204 per annum to dairy and beef farms respectively. In a sector where margins are tight and input costs rising, this is significant.

Innovation comes in many forms. Projects such as GrassCheckGB that link farmers and on-farm data with researchers can have real impact. They serve to drive improvements to productivity and sustainability cross the sector.

Nikki Dalby, Business Research and Delivery Manager at CIEL.

With the threat of extreme and unpredictable weather expected more frequently, having the evidence-based tools available to manage grass effectively in difficult conditions is increasingly important. The data from the project has been utilised in the development of predictive models. Using grass growth and weather forecast data, these models will provide 7 and 14 day estimates of grass growth.

The grass growth models are currently being finalised but results to-date are looking very promising. We plan to have them available to use in future seasons when better forecasting of growth rates will support continued improvements in grassland and planning management.

“The grass growth models are currently being finalised but results to-date are looking very promising.  We plan to have them available to use in future seasons, when better forecasting of growth rates will support continued improvements in grassland planning and management.” Dr. Kat Huson, research scientist at AFBI.

GrassCheckGB is a collaboration between the CIEL (Centre for Innovation in Livestock), the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Rothamsted Research, the three GB meat levy bodies, and industry sponsors, working alongside a network of 50 beef, sheep and dairy farms spread across Great Britain. 

Get involved

Save the date! Thursday 3 February – Online Conference. As this first stage of GrassCheckGB comes to an end, an online conference is planned to share key findings, updates from research partners, and experiences of some of the farmers involved in the project. More information and registration will be shared on the GrassCheckGB website and social media channels early in the New Year.

As 2022 approaches, plans for the continuation of GrassCheckGB are well underway. Additional work packages will be incorporated to the project, further strengthening its importance to the agrifood sector. If you are interested in getting involved, either as a project farmer or a sponsor, please get in touch.