Harnessing the benefits of legumes to reduce input costs

Thursday 16.12.2021 , news

Legumes, and in particular clovers, can be a useful tool to help reduce input costs on farm. Their ability to fix nitrogen and reduce fertiliser requirements is a clear win at a time when costs are high. But they also offer other benefits for those looking to reduce costs without impacting productivity.

Supporting intakes
On livestock farms, grazed grass is the cheapest source of feed so gaining the most from grass is vital if you’re looking to reduce inputs. Integrating legumes, such as clovers, into your grazing leys provides one option to enhance grazing. The structure of fibre in white clover differs from that of ryegrass and it can be broken down in the rumen more rapidly, driving intakes in grazing livestock.

Providing quality grazing throughout the season is another way of reducing the requirement for bought-in feed. All legumes, but particularly clovers, display a seasonality meaning they can support productivity during periods of reduced grass growth. For example, when grasses begin to decline in both quality and quantity during the summer, clovers flourish. The ME and protein content of clover remains high during this time so it can take the place of supplementary feed resulting in substantial cost savings.

Drought resistance
Clovers’ summer resilience is especially beneficial to farms which become particularly dry during the summer months, ensuring feed availability throughout the season. Clovers can persevere where grass cannot, with red clover’s long tap root making it particularly tolerant to drought conditions.

Improved soil health
Enhancing soil health has a noticeable impact on productivity and fertiliser requirements. Legumes help support this through their root structure. For example, white clover has been shown to significantly decrease the density of soils and increase porosity, while also improving the movement of nutrients resulting in greater grass production. As well as the benefits seen from white clover’s stoloniferous roots, red clover’s long tap root aids soil structure, fertility and organic matter.

Enhanced milk production
Producing high quality, nutritious silage helps reduce feed costs over winter. Including red clover in the silage clamp can increase the feed value, with studies showing an increase in milk yield from dairy cows during feed out. This is partly due to red clover containing the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO), protecting its high levels of protein from losses in the clamp. The enzyme also slows protein’s breakdown in the rumen, resulting in higher absorption per kilo of dry matter.

Nitrogen fixation
Including clover swards in a ley can reduce the need for fertiliser applications without compromising grass yields. Soil-dwelling Rhizobium bacteria and clover root nodules work together to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form available to the plant and fix it in the soil. This can provide up to 150kg nitrogen/ha, reducing the need for artificial nitrogen, resulting in a substantial cost saving from lower input and application costs.

AberHSG grass mixtures are offered with clover as standard, with additional clover blends available to suit a particular farming system or requirement. Containing red clover, Aber Red 5 HSG is designed specifically for high-quality silage production. Other cutting and grazing mixtures are also available with red clover on request. Aber HSG Multi-species contains both red and white clovers.

To find out more about how legumes could benefit your farming system, contact one of our forage specialist.


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(Aber HSG)

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