Multi-species swards need 60% less nitrogen fertiliser compared to typical swards sown on Irish farms, research carried out by UCD’s School of Agriculture has revealed.

Initial findings have also shown that specific types of multi-species sward can also produce up to 25% more herbage for cattle.

If the new findings were applied to a typical 100ac farm, it would mean that a farmer could grow an extra 100t of dry matter feed while spreading 4.6t less nitrogen, over the course of a single production year.

As a result, the carbon footprint per kilogramme of beef produced is 15% lower, UCD’s School of Agriculture has said.

The ongoing research on UCD’s Lyons Farm has also found that animals consuming this multi-species sward reach their target slaughter weight approximately five to six weeks earlier than their counterparts grazing the perennial ryegrass monoculture – giving the 15% lower carbon footprint per kilogramme of beef.

The work, which is being supervised by Professor Tommy Boland, associate Professor Helen Sheridan and Dr Alan Kelly, has focused on a six-species sward containing two grasses, two legumes and two herbs.

Professor Boland said: “I am confident that when we grow multi-species swards and feed them to beef cattle and sheep, we improve animal performance and we grow that feed from substantially lower levels of fertiliser inputs, and, as a result, increase farm profitability.”

ASA conference

This research on multi-species swards will be discussed at the annual Agricultural Science Association conference, which is taking place at the Killashee Hotel, Co Kildare, on 7 September.

The theme for this year’s conference is ‘The Science of Sustainable Food Systems’, and will focus on the solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing the agriculture industry.