Improving heavy land raises output by 65%

Heavy soils stay wet for longer, reach saturation when it rains and have a shorter grazing season, ultimately being less productive and profitable than free-draining soils.

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But while performance is weather dependent, adopting a range of management strategies can boost kg MS/ha by 65%, according to Teagasc research on 10 commercial Irish farms.

Yields rose from 850kg MS/ha to 1,405kg MS/ha on farms that had installed land drainage systems, improved soil fertility, reseeded, or set up the correct farm infrastructure of tracks and troughs with flexible paddock shapes and sizes. These improved heavy soils also coped with an increase in herd size of 32%, allowing stocking rates to go from 2.12 cows/ha to 2.82 cows/ha.

So instead of managing to minimise poaching – which usually prolongs housing and/or concentrate feeding – dairy farmers who invested in techniques specific to their soil profile and topography were able to optimise their heavy land. And it didn’t take many additional grazings to pay for this high-quality grazing infrastructure.

However, researchers pointed out that challenging soils still require regular maintenance, such as jetting of land drains, to maintain this new-found efficiency.

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