Ending the season on a high – October grass growth rates were higher than five-year average

We are now at the end of our 2022 Forage for Knowledge Newsletter series. This year brought about another challenging grazing season. In terms of cumulative grass growth, our seasonal grass growth data clearly shows the effects and impacts of the challenges faced this year.

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It is safe to say that the summer of 2022 will be remembered as a drought. With long spells of dry and warm weather in many areas, grass growth was reduced. For those on heavier land, the dry spring was a blessing. However, the dry weather in May had memories of 2018 come rushing back for many farmers on dry land, as they were facing the prospect of drought from early May onwards. We saw May’s growth rate drop from 85 kg DM/ha/day and continue to drop below the five-year average for the rest of the season.

Grass growth figures did not return to the five-year average rates until September and October time. We then saw growth rates of 50 kg DM/ha/day in September and 40 kg DM/ha/day at the end of October. The average ME for October was back up to 12 MJ/kg of DM, and crude protein was averaging 25.3 %. The average dry matter % dropped for the fourth consecutive month to 17.5%. This gave farms a chance to extend their grazing season, but supplementary feed was and is, in some cases, still needed to meet the DM intake requirements and balance nutrient requirements.

We are now ending the season on a high as grass growth has not stopped. This week some of our contributors are still recording 45 kg DM/ha/day growth rates. Remember, the grass grown over October and November will be most of the grass available in early spring. The grazing season begins in autumn, and we are off to a good start for spring 2023.

Looking back to spring 2022, it was dry and warmer than average, and grass growth figures were looking positive going into April. One of the key drivers for grass growth is sunshine hours and the month of March was unusually sunny. The average grass growth rate in March was 19 kg DM/ha/day, in some areas of the country, these growth rates were more typically seen in early to mid-April than in March, and it meant that, on some farms, the grass was growing at a faster rate than cows could eat it. This brought about some risk that the grass ahead of the cows was going to get too strong, DM% would increase, and quality would drop later in the season. Particularly those who did not have a lot of stock out and grazing in February and March.

As we would expect to see after a mild winter, the ME from the samples submitted in March ranged from 12.6 MJ/kg of DM to 13 MJ/kg of DM. At the end of April, we saw an average ME of 12.9 MJ/kg DM, it then began to drop, and the weekly average continued to stay below 12 MJ/kg of DM until mid-late September. Similarly, we saw crude protein levels increase from March to May and then start to fall over the rest of the summer months. This may have been related to the reduced fertiliser usage across the grazing platform.

Rainfall totals in March were below normal in many places. April’s rainfall came mostly at the start of the month. Strong grass growth rates continued throughout April but began to drop off at the beginning of May. May was mostly warmer than average but cooler at the end of the month. This made for a long month, with grass growth rates dropping from the start of May and continuing to do so into the summer months.

Finally, we would like to thank the contributing farmers who submit samples for analysis and submit their grass measurements weekly. Their commitment enables us to provide our levy payers with the latest regional grass growth and quality figures every week. The value and robustness of this data is strengthened with each contributor’s involvement. This year we had over 9,000 subscribers, a mixture of dairy, beef and sheep farmers, consultants, researchers, and industry members. We hope the information, resource and data provided has helped you capitalise on the cheapest feedstuff available on the farm and drive profitability and sustainable businesses.

Visit AHDB Grass for all grass related tools, services and resources, and Forage for Knowledge for all previous articles, case studies and information.

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Katie Evans

Senior Engagement Manager – Beef & Lamb

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