Trials that could put farmers in the clover
New Teagasc research suggest that maximising clover growth could substantially increase dairy incomes
Clover has the potential to earn farmers millions extra from their farms if the early results from Teagasc research are maintained.
While the research, which is being conducted simultaneously with a 60 cow herd at Moorepark and 120 cows in Clonakilty, is on-going, it shows that clover swards have the potential to increase milk solid yields up to €500/ha.
Deirdre Hennessy and Brian McCarthy are the two lead researchers on the trials, and while they are cautiously optimistic about the potential of the age-old plant, they admit that farmers remain cautious about adopting clover into their systems.
"It gets a mixed reaction to be honest," said Dr McCarthy. "A lot of the farmers that have experience of using clover in the sward went away from it because it kept dying out of the swards. That has made them wary, and even though the results so far are quite good, most guys are telling me that they are going to sit out the duration of the trial to see if it pans out the same way after five years."
But the results so far are hard to ignore. The cows grazing the swards with clover incorporated in Clonakilty have yielded an extra 55 kg/ha of milk solids (MS), while the cows on the grass-clover mix in Moorepark gave an extra 33kgMS/ha. At stocking rates of close to 2.75 cows per hectare, it results in an extra 100-150kgMS/ha.
The value of milk solids can vary, but at €4.50/kg, this is worth €450-675/ha, a colossal difference for very little outlay. Clover seed costs something like €10/kg, and seeding rates tend to be about 5kg/ha.
In Clonakilty the clover mix produced an extra 2.5t/ha of drymatter over the 100pc ryegrass swards. However, in Moorepark, there has been no increase in herbage production.
The researchers believe the lift associated with the inclusion of clover in the sward was bigger in Clonakilty because the soil fertility is slightly lower at this site.