Grass management: Plan now for autumn reseeding

After a mini drought for many, rain was very welcome, which has given a big boost to grass growth rates.

But some ground is still stressed, and grass is getting very wiry and is heading out early.

It may only be the end of June, but the increase in growth should encourage farms to start planning their autumn reseeding.

Depending on the method you will use, you should be starting over the coming weeks to work on the swards to be reseeded.

Most beef producers rely on grazed grass and grass silage as their main forage sources.

The quality and quantity of grass produced can be the biggest feed related influence on animal performance and farm profitability.

The majority of beef and dairy farms have a proportion of swards that don’t always grow enough grass during the year, especially at both shoulders of the year.

This is quite often due to the absence of a sufficient population of perennial ryegrass in swards.

However, it could be due to many factors, such as sward age, pasture management, poaching, weed population, soil fertility, etc.

It is always observed by farmers how much better recently reseeded paddocks grow, compared to older swards.

Underperforming swards and damaged paddocks badly need reseeding if they are to produce a high yield of grass next year and beyond.

It is also very obvious in periods of rapid growth which paddocks are not growing grass efficiently.

Why should you reseed?

Reseeding is not cheap, so it should only be done where significant financial benefits can be gained.

The benefits of reseeding, and the positive economic returns, have been well proven. It is important to note that pastures deteriorate over time, and that this is a natural process and cannot be avoided.

General recommendations are that grazing ground should be reseeded every 8-10 years, and continuous silage ground should be reseeded every 5-7 years, particularly if two or more cuts are taken annually.

Methods of reseeding

There are several different methods of reseeding being practiced in Ireland. Some continue to reseed by the traditional method of ploughing while others may use direct drilling and stitching in grass. Topsoil depth, stone population, and soil structure may determine the most appropriate method.

Regardless of the method, there are important things that you need to get right. A firm seedbed needs to be created for good establishment of the new sward.

Just as important is getting the pH of the soil up to desirable levels. The P and K soil levels also need to be acceptable, to aid establishment of new swards.

Reseeding benefits

  • Provide more grass in both shoulders of the year (early spring and late autumn).
  • New swards are 25% more responsive to nitrogen compared to old permanent pasture.
  • Improved animal performance and productivity per hectare.
  • The grass on reseeded ground has a higher feed quality, and is more palatable.
  • Regrowth is significantly faster.
  • New swards support higher stocking rates.
  • Silage quality and quantity are better.

Grass seed mixtures

The type of mix you choose for reseeding on a beef farm should be determined by what you intend using the sward for. Is the field going to be used for mainly silage or grazing. What level is your farm stocked at? What types of soils are being reseeded?

Heading date and diploid/tetraploids proportions need to be considered when making your decision.

Should you include clover in the mix or not will depend on how much nitrogen you apply, and what chemicals you use for weed control.

Reseeding checklist

  • Field choice for reseeding: choose a low yielding field with a high proportion of weeds, and less than 65% perennial ryegrass.
  • Get a soil test done on the fields you are reseeding.
  • Spray off the field with glyphosate (for as long as the herbicide is still available!)
  • Establish a fine, flat and firm seedbed.
  • Apply fertiliser and lime as per your soil test result.
  • Sow grass seed at 12-14 kg/acre.
  • The seedbed should ideally be rolled, to ensure moisture is retained, and the seed makes good contact with the soil.
  • Weed control: it is important to hit weeds at an early stage for maximum control.
  • Pest control: monitor the new crop for slugs, leatherjackets, frit fly and rabbits.

Management of new sward

  • The first grazing is very important for sward establishment.
  • Graze well to encourage tillering and to increase sward vigour.

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