In Northern Ireland grazed or ensiled grass is by far the main source of forage, occupying an estimated 93% of the total farmed area.  However, the current performance of managed grasslands remains far below its potential with an estimated 7.5 tonnes of grass dry matter utilised per hectare on dairy farms. This has been echoed by a continuing decline in milk from forage, which has fallen steadily from 3,228 litres/cow/year in 2000 to 1,686 litres/cow/year in 2015 (CAFRE benchmarking, 2016).

 

GrassCheck is AgriSearch’s longest running programme, although the format has altered over the years.  However, measurements have always been taken from grass plots at Greenmount and Hillsborough which are fed into a weekly report for the benefit of farmers.  The results from GrassCheck were used as evidence for the 2002 weather aid of £4.57m and the 2013 fodder transport scheme, with £1m subsidy.

 

Despite these useful outcomes, it is recognised that the current GrassCheck programme has its limitations, especially given the wide variety of grass growing conditions experienced across Northern Ireland over the last twelve months. 

 

A recent study carried out by AFBI demonstrated that improving grassland utilisation by one tonne per hectare on a dairy farm is worth an additional profit of £441/ha/year.  The Sustainable Agricultural Land Management Strategy for Northern Ireland has called for an increase in the uptake of sward assessment and measurement of grass utilisation on farms as one measure by which improvements in grassland utilisation can be achieved. 

 

AgriSearch together with their research partners AFBI have decided to substantially increase the scope of the GrassCheck project by recruiting twelve pilot dairy farmers from across Northern Ireland to participate in the project in 2017.

 

Applications are being sought from interested dairy farmers.  These farmers will measure grass each week throughout the grazing season.  Weekly grass samples will be taken for analysis.  Each of the pilot farms will also have an automatic weather station installed, which will measure key metrological data such as temperature, rainfall and soil moisture. 

 

This project will provide high quality, up-to-date grass growth and quality information from across Northern Ireland to assist farmers in making grassland management decisions and in turn improve grassland utilisation on NI farms. 

 

Applications will open on Wednesday 14th December 2016.  Application forms and information packs will be available to download from the AgriSearch website from that date.  In the mean time if you would like to find out more then visit the AgriSearch stand at the Royal Ulster Winter Fair.