Research collaboration secures reliable on-farm performance

Wednesday 24.11.2021 , news

Helping farmers gain the most from their forage is at the heart of what we do, with sound science and rigorous on-farm testing underpinning our ongoing innovation.

“We want our farmer customers to have confidence in the performance of our forage products,” says Germinal’s grass and forage production expert, Ben Wixey. “This starts with our Germinal Horizon researchers – who make up about 20 per cent of our team and who undertake breeding work and oversee farm trials at our own sites. But we don’t stop there; we also collaborate with several top UK research organisations to ensure that our products are thoroughly tested in a broad range of growing conditions and management systems. As a result, we can provide farmers with the reassurance that our products will work hard for them on farm.”

Here’s a round-up of some of the research we currently have underway:

Environmental sustainability

We have an established track record of delivering products that help farmers overcome the growing challenge of balancing productivity with environmental sustainability. Our Aber High Sugar Grass (HSG) varieties, for example, deliver better production from home-grown forage whilst also lowering ammonia emissions – find out more.

But, with the growing focus on climate change and resource efficiency, environmental sustainability is rapidly becoming one of the biggest considerations in managing ruminant livestock. We believe that forage legumes have a key role to play in the future, with their nitrogen-fixing ability offering great potential to significantly reduce applied mineral nitrogen fertiliser – a considerable cost and a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, we are working to develop varieties of red clover with enhanced persistency to better withstand grazing, as well as white clover hybrids with a unique root system to provide greater drought tolerance.

Extreme weather

Dry conditions and extreme weather patterns are becoming a more common occurrence for UK farmers. In response to this, our Germinal Horizon team has developed AberRoot, a long-term festulolium. Following extensive plot trials, AberRoot has been drilled into grass leys on 23 farms across the UK to test it in drought conditions, with more scheduled to be sown in spring 2022.

One of these farms is at the University of Reading. During the summer months, dry conditions mean grass growth and grazing can be poor at the Reading site. We proposed two solutions: extending the grazing pattern or using drought-resistant varieties. Most of the trial focuses on maximising grass growth during the shoulders of the season to mitigate for reduced summer growth, but AberRoot is also being trialled to test its abilities in the dry conditions Reading experiences, and our findings will not only inform future innovation but can help us advise on sward management techniques when farms face drought.

Reducing costs over winter

Another benefit of extending the grazing season is that it can help reduce costs over winter. Grazing forage crops such as brassicas is a popular choice for overwintering livestock but integrating them seamlessly into a rotation needs to be planned.

Keen to reduce winter housing and feed costs by extending the grazing season for their dairy herd and youngstock, Newcastle University is running a trial sowing forage crops into winter barley. These include Maris Kestrel kale, Redstart hybrid brassicas, Vollenda stubble turnips and Stego forage rape. The crops are grazed over winter after the barley harvest and the trial will help us develop our understanding of the best forage crops to use in the winter in different circumstances.

Sustainable homegrown feeds

Producing high-quality homegrown maize is another cost-effective way to reduce the need for bought-in feed, but the soil erosion caused by leaving soils bare after it is harvested is coming under increasing scrutiny.

Under-sowing maize with grass or other crops can help prevent nitrate loss from the soil and reduce the risk of compaction. A current trial at Harper Adams University is exploring grass varieties best suited to under-sowing and whether maize can be direct drilled alongside under-sown crops. A variety of species and mixtures are being trialled including traditional perennial ryegrasses, white clover and festuloliums. The trial will assess the impact on soil nitrogen levels, ground cover and yield from both the grasses and maize and will help us to advise farmers how to address this growing area of concern whilst maintaining productivity.

Increasing sward diversity

Using a mixture of grass varieties, legumes and herbs to form a multi-species ley is becoming a popular choice for farmers looking to harness the benefits these mixes bring to livestock performance, soil health and biodiversity. However, more needs to be known about which species and mixtures give the most benefit. Ongoing research at Germinal Horizon’s research farm and at Rothamsted Research is quantifying these benefits from increasing sward diversity and identifying which species are responsible.

Another increasingly common practice for improving grassland soil health is tall grass grazing. Another trial at Newcastle University in which Germinal is involved is aiming to establish the impact of using a tall grass grazing system compared to conventional rotational grazing. The trial is comparing two groups of dairy cows, each grazing the different systems and looking at the impact on production and sustainability, including milk yields and soil organic matter.

We strive to deliver the best varieties to farmers by ensuring our research is comprehensive and targeted towards on-farm needs. By taking our new varieties from the lab to field, you know they’ll work effectively in a real-life farming situation.

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