ON-Farm advises - seize the day and combat soil poaching

An application of fertilizer to encourage grass growth and practical actions to reduce the poaching of land saturated following the wettest winter on record are recommended by Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) as turning out time approaches.

Wales saw 757mm, double the amount of rainfall normally recorded in winter and more than 30mm more than the previous record rainfall year of 2013/2014.

HCC Scholar and grassland consultant, Charlie Morgan said: “Farmers should be looking to optimise early season grass to reduce concentrate costs of their livestock. Soil temperature, soil physical conditions and grass quality after a wet winter will be significant factors in the economical return of any fertilizer application. These have to be addressed to achieve efficient use of nutrients and reduce the risk of losses and pollution.” 

James Ruggeri, HCC’s Industry Development Executive, said: “While it has been a wet winter it has also been a mild one, therefore soil temperatures in many areas across Wales are high enough to facilitate grass growth making fertilizer applications very beneficial.  However, recovery of applied nitrogen falls from 70% to ~50% when soils are damaged.”

Poaching is the damage caused to turf or sward by the feet of livestock. Hooves cause compaction of the soil surface, leaving depressions which can be 10cm to 12cm deep. This can form an almost continuous layer of grey anaerobic soil, where natural activity, carried out by soil micro-organisms, is low. The impact of poaching can affect soils for many years. Even under light poaching, yield can be reduced by 5 – 10kgDM/ha/day.

Highly-stocked fields in wet conditions or cattle having access to wet areas, particularly around inappropriately-placed or overflowing water troughs, will cause poaching. Feeding rings left in the same position and frequent movement of livestock along the same routes also puts pressure on fields.

Mr. Ruggeri recommended HCC’s handy booklet, authored by Mr. Morgan, called “Getting the most from your soil - a practical guide to managing grassland resources” for those seeking more information and said: “There are a number of ways to reduce the risk of poaching post turn out, including lower stocking densities where possible, grazing the driest fields during wet periods and regularly moving feeders or using a mobile snacker feeder rather than fixed troughs.

“All of these options will help alleviate damage to the sward and encourage a faster recovery.”

“Plan and manage grazing to suit grass cover; vary this through the season when conditions and cover dictate and watch for sensitive fields or field areas. Look at longer-term grass leys for grazing so root structure can develop and provide support for grazing animals,” said Mr. Ruggeri.  

The booklet “Getting the most from your soil - a practical guide to managing grassland resources” can be found on the HCC website: http://hccmpw.org.uk/publications/farming_and_industry_development/grassland_management/

Farming Connect are holding a series of open events during April and May – ‘Grassland Focus, Recovering from the wettest winter on record’ - with soils and grassland specialists, Chris Duller and Charlie Morgan.

Some dates and locations include:

13/04/16 – Kilford, Denbigh, LL16 4ER

20/04/16 – Gumma Farm, Presteigne, LD8 2NP

03/05/16 – Abernac, Lledrod, Aberystwyth, SY23 4SN

11/05/16 – Lan Farm, Broad Oak, Carmarthen, SA32 8QS

19/05/16 – Red House, Newtown, SY16 3HH