How white clover was used on this Longford dairy farm to improve soil fertility
The Teagasc Grass10 team was on site in Longford on a seasonally wet April day to guide farmers through the latest white clover research. Farmers from surrounding townlands and counties gathered at Firmmount Farm, just outside Edgeworthstown, to learn more – with the Grass10 team highlighting the facility’s potential to shift dependency on expensive chemical nitrogen applications.
Gun makers have also been advised not to delay fertilizer application despite skyrocketing prices, and only consider white clover after soil fertility has been brought to specification.
Proper soil fertility is fundamental to white clover growth. With fertile soil as a base, various management strategies can be implemented to increase the presence of the crop in your fields.
Firmmount Farm is a great example of a farm that has made soil fertility a priority and now enjoys a high white clover presence in most of their paddocks.
The farm is run by Patrick O’Neill together with his father Thomas and covers 74 ha with the milking platform covering 45 ha.
The O’Neills milk 118 cows in a 16-unit milking parlor and plan to increase that number in the coming years. The stocking density of the entire farm is two livestock units/ha and falls just under the derogation. The milking parlor stocking density is 2.6 livestock units/ha.
“In 2012 I entered into a partnership with dad and we had 50 cows at the time. We have a black and white herd with a weird jersey in it,” said Patrick.
The EBI of the herd is €159, the average lactation number is 3.3, 84% of the herd fall into the 6 week calving block and 32% of the cows are first calvers.
Milk production is 458 kg milk solids per cow, fat 4.02 percent and protein 3.41 percent. Currently the farm has a grass cover of 645 kg DM/ha and the total chemical nitrogen application so far in 2022 is 73 kg/ha. The nitrogen use efficiency is 27 percent with the aim of increasing this to 35 percent.
Currently the total farm area with clover is 24 pieces. This is the result of good soil fertility with 40 percent of arable land optimal for pH, phosphorus and potassium.
About 66 percent of the farm is optimal for pH, while 82 percent is optimal for phosphorus. Over 64 percent of the country is optimal for potassium.
The impact white clover can have on the farm’s nitrogen needs is illustrated by production numbers from research provided on the day by Seamus Nolan, Dairy Advisor at Teagasc.
Two trials were conducted in a study funded by Dairy Research Ireland. The grass trial received 250 kg of nitrogen while the clover-grass trial received 150 kg of nitrogen.
The stocking density was 2.74 cows/ha in both trials. It was found that the total tonnes DM/ha were similar in both trials.
Cows grazing in the clovergrass trial produced an additional 21 kg of milk solids per cow. Nitrogen use efficiency was also 18% higher in the clovergrass trial.
The excess nitrogen was 78 kg/ha lower in the clover-grass trial. The study found that this combination of factors resulted in a higher profitability of €108/ha when white clover was present.
Teagasc Grass10 advisor Joseph Dunphy advised farmers, despite skyrocketing fertilizer costs, to crank the pump and get out chemical nitrogen in early April to meet looming grass needs.
“For 2022, the best we can do is get our recording right. Record daily nitrogen use either in your own notes or on PastureBase,” Joseph said.
“Record both manure application and chemical nitrogen. We cannot reduce what we do not measure. Target your manure for paddocks that are low in phosphorus and potassium.”
Teagasc advised farmers to reduce the number of planned surplus bales this year to lower nitrogen needs and adopt a strict policy of only producing what you need.
The O’Neills currently have 30 tonnes of silage left in their pit, which is typical of a typical year’s reserve on the farm.
Farms in the area enjoy reasonable winter lengths, with cows housed full-time from early November and back out during the day in early February. Full-time grazing usually returns to Firmmount Farm by March.
This winter the feed requirement on O’Neill’s Farm is 250 tons DM for the cows and 26 tons DM for the heifers. The company is currently expected to produce 250 t DM this year, whereby the deficit will be made up with a third cut of baled silage in late summer.
A total of 19.5 ha will be mowed this year with both the first and the second cut. The total nitrogen distribution before the first cut is 75 kg chemical nitrogen/ha and 25 kg organic nitrogen/ha. The first cut will take place on the farm in the last week of May, with fertilizer applied on April 8th. Grass growth at Firmmount Farm is 14 tDM/ha with chemical nitrogen application at 161 kg/ha/year.
Teagasc Ballyhaise’s Owen McPartland advised farmers to “watch rather than look” when it comes to silage stocks this winter. “If you delay the first cut this year, you will only rob Peter to pay Paul. Don’t wait, get out your 80 units of fertilizer this week,” Owen urged.
“Decision time for the coming winter is now. You must try to predict whether you will run out of silage and if so, reduce the number. “Selling now will also save pasture grass and could avoid having to sell twice as much when forage runs out at the end of the year.”
Firmmount Farm, which is also a Ballyhaise monitor lizard farm, participates in trials conducted by Michael Egan, Teagasc Grassland Researcher.
Teagasc Ballyhaise’s Donal Patton said April is a good time for those with the right soil fertility to seed clover with ideal soil moisture levels this month.
“You need a fine, firm seedbed and you keep the clover seed up. To encourage clover growth, you need to graze the cover well. It’s safer with Klee if you’re trying to work one or two paddocks at a time, don’t try to work a huge block of land at once. A good plan is to reseed 10 percent land and reseed 15 percent each year.”
The goal for Firmunt Farm is to have an overall clover presence of 70-80 percent. “Having 100 percent of the farm with clover is an almost impossible task. Soil fertility determines success and the speed at which clover takes root,” Donal continued.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/dairy/dairy-advice/how-white-clover-was-used-on-this-longford-dairy-farm-to-improve-soil-fertility-41586851.html How white clover was used on this Longford dairy farm to improve soil fertility