In this article, FRS focuses on clover, its benefits and role in farm sustainability.
In 2021, there was a major focus on sowing clover in Irish agriculture. This was due to increasing pressure to reduce greenhouse grass emissions. Also, clover is set to help reduce the use of nitrogen fertiliser and increase nitrogen efficiency.
White clover is recommended to improve sustainability. However, farmers may be hesitant to change their pasture-based milk and meat production systems until they find out more about the plant, growth conditions and benefits.
Firstly, white clover grows well with grass. It is suited to grazing and can grow in a wide range of climate conditions. It is also suitable for organic farmers as it can help determine grass growth potential.
White clover can fix nitrogen through the atmosphere and turn it into plant growth. This process reduces the need for chemical nitrogen.
This means clover can be used as an alternative to artificial fertiliser, which may be in the farmer’s favour with high costs this year.
Teagasc lists that the benefits of clover can be seen from May onwards. These include:
- Increased herbage quality in the summer months (compared to grass only);
- Increased dry matter intake for summer and autumn;
- Higher milk yield and live weight gain.
Using clover to improve both animal and sward production and reduce chemical N fertiliser use are opportunities for farmers to save money in the long term.
Establishing white clover on a farm may take a couple of years. For best results, clover can be sown through a full reseed. If this option does not suit, it can also be introduced into a sward by being stitched/over-sown in.
Paddocks with the right soil fertility, high perennial grass content and low-density swards with controlled weeds are best for stitching.
Head of Grassland Research at Teagasc, Dr. Michael O’Donovan, recommends that between late-April and mid-June is the optimum time for establishing white clover in grassland swards.
If sowing, soil fertility plays a factor in the success of growth. Teagasc also recommends getting up to date soil samples as the PH is critical.
As clover is more sensitive to a lower PH than grass, it should be greater than 6.3 and N&P indexes 3+. With different clover variants available, knowing your soil can help you choose which is best suited. A local seed supplier can help with this.
Farmers must be aware that weed control is essential before clover growth. Most sprays can kill off clover.
Research undertaken by Teagasc has delivered ‘promising results’ to date. They state that on dairy farms, clover can help increase milk solids by 20-48kg cow/per year and increase net farm profit up to €305/ha.
Suckler farmers who took part in the research also saw profitability increase by 14% for grass/clover compared to grass only system.
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