Peter and Jenny Young are milking 350 cows near Athy, Co Kildare.
Peter used to work for the Irish Farmers Journal before deciding to focus on growing the dairy farm.
Jenny and Peter were organic dairy farmers between 2008 and 2019 when an opportunity to expand the farm meant that it made more sense to return to commercial dairy farming.
At the conference, Peter outlined the 11 lessons that he learned about clover over his farming career.
You can focus too much on cost cutting. If reducing nitrogen (N), you need to have clover in the sward to replace the N.
Planning is critical in any change of direction. If going into organics, make sure there is lots of surplus silage on hand, that soil P levels are good and that there is clover in the swards.
Don’t go mad over-sowing clover, as it is very hit and miss. Have a five-year plan to increase contribution from clover, doing 10% to 15% per year.
White clover gives you 120kg/ha free N, but needs good pH, P and K to do it well. The Young farm dropped one soil fertility index in the first five years of organics.
Reseeding works best to establish clover. Nurse crops works well when reseeding if no sprays are allowed. Peter used to over-sow the reseed with half-rate of oats and then cut this for silage, which meant he got bulk and protected grass and clover from weeds.
Red clover silage is key for quantity and (sometimes) quality in low-N systems.
Biggest mistake is to ignore potash in organic or low-N systems. Need 30kg N and 3.5kg P and 25kg K to grow 1t of grass.
Spreading high rates of potash on high-clover content fields and then grazing with cows is a recipe for bloat. He lost seven cows with bloat in one week. Now spreads potash little and often.
Test slurry. Large lagoon got agitated and tested and had a lot less N than he expected.
Build the system around the lessons from clover. Target is to spread 150kg N/ha and grow high quantities of grass.
Peter says farmers should keep asking questions and listen to the answers. He visited Solohead research farm three times in 2021 to upskill on clover management.