During this difficult time, when our lives are filled with restrictions, all farming related events seem to be taking place online (via Zoom or some other online media).
It feels like I am logged on to an event a couple of times every week.
The pandemic has probably changed the delivery of information forever. It definitely saves time and the expense of travelling, and most farmers have managed to handle this technology.
I do find that many of these webinars go on too long. Once you get over an hour, I get a little fed up
But there are a few issues. One is the loss of interaction with others (farming is becoming an even more isolated occupation).
Also, I do find that many of these webinars go on too long. Once you get over an hour, I get a little fed up and start to lose interest.
Recently, at a lot of these events, some of the speakers bring up the subject of multi-species swards. There seems to be a big push in this area at the moment.
Many people seem to think that they are a wonderful addition to our armory and have the potential to revolutionise farming.
Most of the farmers in my part of the country would laugh at you if you started talking about multi-species swards
However, for me, I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Most of the farmers in my part of the country would laugh at you if you started talking about multi-species swards.
They would assume that you are referring to badly managed land that has loads of weeds such as rushes, buttercups, dandelions and daisies –not things you would be encouraged to plant.
Also, what should you plant and where? There seems to be a massive variation in advice around what should be included in a multi-species seed mixture.
The ability to fix nitrogen is great, and anything that lowers our reliance on bagged fertiliser would be welcome
However, in general, the perceived benefits include the ability to fix nitrogen, reduce anthelmintic usage, and also that some of these species are deep rooting, so they can continue to grow in drought situations.
The ability to fix nitrogen is great, and anything that lowers our reliance on bagged fertiliser would be welcome.
But it is hard for me to see a benefit from something that grows in a drought (rarely if ever an issue in Co Fermanagh), and the anthelmintic benefits from these mixes are far from proven.
However, my big issue with them is that there are very few studies or examples of farmers working with marginal land or in the wetter parts of the country.
It is fine for farmers with good land and dry conditions, but much more needs to be done before we get wider use.
In addition, all reports would seem to suggest that the persistency of these swards will be four or five years at best. This will be another big issue for farmers working under difficult conditions, where opportunities to establish a new sward are often limited.
Here is where I stand. I have worked hard at my soils to get the pH and nutrient balance right. I have sowed most of the ground with good perennial ryegrass mixtures.
These grass swards will continue to produce for many years, so long as management is good
Most of my ground, if well managed and fertilised, is producing around 12t of dry matter per hectare per year in a paddock grazing system, and the cattle and sheep are performing reasonably well on it.
These grass swards will continue to produce for many years, so long as management is good, and that is important because it is not always possible to get reseeding done in Fermanagh every year.
So, in short, it is very hard for me to change to these multi-species swards.
Having said all these negative things about multi-species swards, it has not completely deterred me. In fact, the chances are that I will try them very soon, but only on a small scale.
I want to be able to see if they can work well under challenging situations and if their persistency can be improved. Only if these issues are addressed, will there be substantial farmer uptake across the country.