There is no middle ground with farming. If you are not moving forward, then you are actually going backwards.
Some farmers think it is good enough to keep doing the same thing year after year and reckon if it is not broken why fix it. But my thinking is the opposite. If we are not changing and trying to improve then we will be left behind, and it will be similar to a backward step.
As a result, I am always on the lookout for the most up-to-date advice and technology to improve my business. Sometimes things might have to be tinkered with to make them suit my farming conditions, but one thing for sure is I am never satisfied that I am at the top of my game. I always feel that there is more that I can do.
Recently I have been listening to a lot of advice about red clover silage and there seems to be a lot of benefits to be gained from it.
Those advocating a switch point out that you can produce really high-quality silage from red clover (particularly high in protein), and this can be done without the need for massive amounts of artificial fertilisers.
So, there are a number of financial gains including less need for expensive meal and expensive fertilisers. This also has the added benefit of improving our carbon footprint and helping us down that magical road towards net-zero carbon emissions.
As with everything, there are always some negatives. When making red clover silage you need really good dry conditions (something I fear I am going to struggle with in Fermanagh). On top of that it seems that you can only ted it once, and that should be done immediately after cutting. Once it starts to wilt any further tedding will break up the clover.
I decided this year that I was going to give red clover a try, and if it is successful then I will establish more of it over the next few years. I discussed it with a seed specialist and have ended up with a perennial ryegrass/red clover mix, with some white clover added just to be on the safe side (if the red clover dies out quickly). I felt that there was no point in being too adventurous in my first attempt.
I choose one of my best fields with good indices for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The pH was sitting at 6.1 so I added lime to try and bring that closer to 6.5. I went with a full plough reseed as there had been issues with the field which needed levelling out.
There was a standing crop of grass in the field which was relatively clean and weed free. So, I mowed the grass on a Saturday evening and lifted it on the Monday morning. Then on the Wednesday I got a contractor in to plough the field, which he finished on the Thursday.
We gathered the stones, and the contractor came back on the Friday and disced and levelled the field. By the Friday evening it was ready for the seed.
All in all, the turnaround was six days (probably a record on this farm).
This field is about one-fifth of my silage ground and if it is successful, I would hope to repeat on the rest of my silage ground over the next five years. My intention is to cut this field at least three times a year and then graze with sheep.
This may yet prove to be a problem as there are some who would suggest that red clover should not be offered to sheep in and around tupping time. I might have to do more investigation into this.
As usual I will have no hesitation in telling the full story on my red clover trial (successful or not).