Prolonged lack of rainfall restricts grass growth

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

By Felicity Rusk

The lack of rainfall, particularly across England and Wales, has started to seriously restrict grass growth. In the week ending 5 June, GB grass growth averaged 40.7 kg DM/ha, almost half of the long-term average (2010-19), according to our Forage for Knowledge programme. Nevertheless, large regional differences in growth rates continue to be noted, with a deviation of 63.6kg DM/ha recorded between the highest and lowest rates in the most recent week.

  

According to the Met Office, May 2020 was the sunniest May since the records began in 1929. The UK on average received 143% of the long-term average sunshine. Temperatures were only around a degree warmer than the long-term average (1981-2020).

However, the UK received on average only 47% of the long-term average for rainfall, with England and Wales being particularly affected. This makes May 2020 the 9th driest on record (since 1862).

 

In comparison to 2018, the dry weather arrived a month earlier. This means that dealing with low grass growth when the plant wants to go to head is a likely a challenge for many farms. 

Furthermore, data from GrassCheck GB shows that the average metabolisable energy (ME) value has fallen in the last couple of weeks, although the dry matter (DM) and sugar (WSC) values remain high. This suggest there has been a shift towards more stem and less leaf, as the swards respond to the dry conditions.

For beef and lamb producers may have to consider supplementary feeding to avoid a slowdown in growth rates. This has the potential to have subsequent effects on finishing times and weights. Dairy producers may also have to consider supplementary feeding to avoid a reduction in yields. The extent of this will dependent on whether grass growth is able to recover again in the coming months, when some compensatory growth could occur.

Nevertheless, most regions of the UK have received some rain in early June, which should provide some relief to producers. However, it is too early to tell whether this has been enough to get grass growth back on the right track.

Click here for practical information on how to manage through the dry weather

Felicity Rusk

Analyst - Livestock

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