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Farming

Red clover innovation for Wales

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NEW research to ensure more Welsh livestock farmers could benefit from longer lasting, disease resistant red clovers is being undertaken at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
The three-year Welsh Government (WG) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)-funded project is looking at ways to improve protein production and utilisation on farms in Wales through improved forage crops.


Professor Leif Skot, head of forage plant breeding at IBERS, is leading the project, whose partners are WG, ERDF, Germinal Holdings, HCC and Farming Connect.


As part of the project, Professor Skot and his team are looking at how red clover production and persistence can be improved, helping farmers to improve their silage crop value. In turn, this could go some way in helping farmers reduce the need to buy-in as many expensive concentrates.


Historically, some producers have been drawn away from red clover due to a tendency for yields to drop off after a couple of years. To solve that problem, scientists developed varieties which focused on improved yields and better persistence so they yield well into their fourth and fifth harvest.


However, prolonging the productive life of the plant increases the risk of another problem red clover faces, which is where this new project is currently focused.


Professor Skot explains: “One of the biggest issues is that red clover is susceptible to trampling, and if the plants get damaged then they are susceptible to disease. White clover is stoloniferous, which means it grows by stolons [small roots] which spread across the soil surface and allows the plant to fill in any gaps in the sward. Red clover plants, on the other hand, grow from a single growing point, the crown. That means that once the crown is damaged and the plant succumbs to disease, the remaining plants aren’t able to compensate and fill in the gaps, leading to a loss in yields.”


In a bid to counter this, Professor Skot and his team are developing resistance to the two major diseases responsible for red clover loss: Stem Nematode and Crown Rot (Sclerotinia).


They hope that by developing disease-resistant plants, they can create a more robust, productive plant.


“Stem Nematode and Sclerotinia are soil-borne pathogens for which we have no recognised chemical control. The current solution is to take a long gap in the rotation to minimise the potential risk of the problem,” adds Paul Billings of Germinal. “This research project is looking at whether we can select material which is more resistant to each of these diseases, and then combine them to create varieties resistant to both pathogens.”


Professor Skot says he and his team have carried out several generations of selection for Stem Nematode and Sclerotinia. They are now at the stage where they will combine the resistance to one population so it can be tested in the field.
While it is high-yielding and produces high-quality forage from the first year, red clover does need to be managed in a way which will improve its resistance, Professor Skot adds.


“The crown of the plant is susceptible to damage, so we are looking at improving its structure.. Our research shows that if they have compact crowns then they are more resilient to damage from machinery and compaction from animals or grazing. The major management technique is not cutting below 5cm and not overgrazing so that the crown isn’t damaged.”


With the correct management, red clover can yield between 22 and 25 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per annum when sown with grass, with clover content able to reach as high as 20 tonnes of dry matter in the first year.


“It’s high-yielding and high-quality from the first year, which is one of the great things about the crop. By minimising the problem areas, we can hopefully give Welsh farmers a way to produce more of their own protein on-farm,” he says.


This project aims to help deliver on the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act, one objective of which is to drive sustainable growth. It also contributes to its Economic Action Plan which encourages greater R&D and innovation.


RED CLOVER CASE STUDY
The Cowcher family from Penrhiw, Ceredigion, a Farming Connect Focus site, has seen the advantages of growing red clover on their farm for over a decade, but the introduction of long-lasting varieties would boost the benefits of the crop even further.


“We’ve been using red clover for more than ten years since we converted to organic production,” says Phil Cowcher, who farms beef and sheep with his parents across 500 acres (202ha) of part-owned, part-rented and part share-farmed organic farmland.


“It gives us high yields of good-quality forage, which can be difficult in organic systems, and it suppresses weeds because it’s very vigorous – if we get creeping thistles it smothers and gets rid of them,” he says. “Red clover is also important for fixing nitrogen. Cereals following red clover systems seem to yield very well, and it has deep tap roots so it breaks up the compaction.”


Phil believes planting with a cereal reduces competition from weeds during establishment, as the cereal acts as a nurse crop.


The 45 acres (18ha) of red clover is used by both the farm’s beef and sheep enterprises. The calves – produced by the 60-head, mainly Stabiliser suckler herd – tend to be fed the second and third cuts, as part of the growing and finishing rations.


The first cut, which usually has a higher grass content and metabolisable energy, is usually fed to pregnant ewes late in their pregnancy. Towards the end of the growing season, the red clover leys are rotationally grazed by lambs.

In clover: Phil Cowcher at Penrhiw


Phil adds: “For the calves, I like to feed two-thirds red clover with a third barley and peas for fibre. If it’s alone then it’s a bit rich, but by combining it with barley and peas it seems to complement the clover well.


“We make sure lambs are introduced gradually to the red clover when they first graze it. Once they’ve adjusted to the diet, growth rates are good and they usually finish well – we start selling in June at around 19kg and the last ones go by October.”


Phil believes management is fairly simple but stresses the importance of sowing in a fine seedbed when soils are over 10℃. If there’s a cold spring then cereals are planted first and the red clover ley is sown on top with a grass harrow/air seeder, into the growing crop, once soil temperature is high enough.


“When we cut it we have to make sure we don’t cut it too low, and we have to be careful not to overgraze it and damage the crown too. But for us, red clover’s a high-quality, high yielding crop and we’ll definitely carrying on growing it,” Phil concludes

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Farming

2019 ‘a step into the unknown’

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IN HIS New Year Message Kevin Roberts, chair of Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has said that never has a year brought such uncertainty, due to the ongoing political deadlock over Brexit.

Mr Roberts emphasised that the red meat industry, which brings £200m a year in export income for Wales and boasts the world-renowned PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh Beef brands, was one of the sectors with most to lose.

WTO Tariffs, which are likely to be levied in the absence of a deal, are 5-10% on many types of goods but on fresh red meat, they range from 40-80%. Independent studies have also identified the sheep sector, which is heavily dependent on exports of its premium-quality produce, as particularly vulnerable to a disruption in European trade.

HCC Chair Kevin Roberts said, “Throughout the past year, I’ve said time and again that the future is fundamentally bright for our industry. We have top-quality produce, brands which are recognised throughout the world, extremely dedicated producers and an industry which pulls in the same direction in promoting high standards in meat quality, welfare and sustainability.

“However, as 2019 dawns we find ourselves standing on a cliff edge,” he said. “Independent reports project a fall of 30% or more in farm-gate prices if there’s a chaotic Brexit, and farmers need certainty in order to invest and continue to develop their businesses.

“HCC is working with Government and others to put contingency plans in place as far as we can,” added Mr Roberts, “but the uncertainty and the range of potential outcomes are so great – just three months before the exit date – that the complexity involved is immense.

“Our industry’s New Year wish is simple; to be able to trade freely and fairly and have some certainty for the future.”

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Farming

NSA hits back at vegan campaign

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THE ARRIVAL of a new year is often a time of optimism, of making plans for the year ahead, but increasingly for livestock farmers, January is now the time producers find themselves arguing a torrent of false claims of crimes against animal welfare, the environment and human health that the media are so quick to promote as part of ‘Veganuary’.

And this year, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is ready to fight back against what it says is ‘a misguided and misleading campaign’.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker says: “Make no doubt about it, behind the positive messages about Veganuary lies a well-coordinated campaign against livestock farming. Our concern is that our unique grass-based method of sheep production in Britain is hidden within more global and general statistics.

“We are seeing criticisms from welfare campaigners, rewilders, climate change campaigners, and health campaigners – but all these are connected and ignore the fact that UK sheep farming works very much in harmony with our environment, our landscapes, and our human ecology – creating a countryside the majority of the public love and producing a food product that is healthy and nutritious within a balanced diet.

“The climate change arguments that have been buoyed by the recent Paris Climate Change Summit ignore the fact that red meat from livestock that is part of a grass-based system is different from that raised in feedlots and in intensive situations. Even more misleading is that the carbon footprinting tools we use do not take account of whole life cycles and ignore the role of grasslands and grazing animals in storing carbon and organic matter in our soils and even in the wool they produce. I would go as far to suggest that ‘organic greenhouse gas cycling’ from grazed livestock should be treated separately from gas emissions derived from fossil fuels.”

NSA says the UK should be seeking to maintain or even increase sheep numbers here in the UK, related to market demand, but further encourage the distribution into areas that are devoid of livestock in order to provide the multi-functional outcomes that people are interested in today.

Mr Stocker concludes: “In the UK sheep are a form of positive and regenerative agriculture which keep our uplands and permanent pastures in good condition and improve our cropping lands in terms of soil quality and the ecological benefits of a return to mixed farming.

“Some people seem hell-bent on portraying sheep as a global enemy, but in fact, they are the ultimate in renewable technology and are an efficient form of productive land management that is planet friendly.”

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Farming

Sheep and goat inventory

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NFU CYMRU is reminding farmers that the 2019 Annual Sheep and Goat Inventory forms must be returned by February 1.

The form is a legal requirement and must be returned by no later than Friday, February 1, to avoid an increased risk of being selected for an inspection. The form should include the number of sheep and goats of which the farmer is the registered keeper, by CPH location, on January 1, 2019. Farmers must also record the number of sheep and goats on January 1 in their on-farm flock record to avoid a potential cross-compliance penalty.

Sheep and goat keepers have the option of completing the form online via www.eidcymru.org. However, keepers must have registered to EIDCymru prior to submitting the online inventory return. If you are completing the form electronically, you do not need to return the paper form

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