Farm Ireland

Friday 17 November 2017

Organic convert is in the clover

We paid a visit to the Mayo farm returning liveweight gains of 1kg/day without concentrates

Red clover fixes the equivalent of 200kg/ha of nitrogen annually.
Red clover fixes the equivalent of 200kg/ha of nitrogen annually.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

It's clover that's the real driver of this business," Teagasc's Dan Clavin told farmers attending the farm walk at Eugene Kirrane's last week.

"Eugene achieved a daily liveweight gain from his stock during a 36 day period last winter of over 1kg/day - without any concentrates (which cost €500/t in organic system).

"It's the red clover silage that is able to do this. Stock prefer it over grass silage because it's more palatable, so they tend to eat more of it. But it's also higher in minerals and protein than grass silage at about 20pc, and maintains a high digestibility throughout the year because it doesn't go to seed and become stemmy. But it's real benefit is its ability to fix the equivalent of 200kg/ha of nitrogen annually," he said.

Mr Kirrane was equally enthusiastic about the potential of the seed mix, which is initially an 80:20 mix of clover and ryegrasses.

"We got 17 bales per acre off it last year over the course of four cuts. That was probably double what I'd been getting off the same area with grass, which is absolutely phenomenal because there was no fertiliser used bar 2,000 gallons of slurry out each time after cutting. It was just a field that you'd love to go out and look at because every day it was nearly two inches higher," he said.

Trials at Teagasc Grange with red clover confirm the high yields, with crops generating 15.5tDM/ha over the course of four cuts. This was in soils that had optimum fertility and pH levels, and the crop has persisted for up to six years.

However, persistence is a big challenge, as Mr Kirrane has discovered.

"I was disappointed with the yields from the crop this year, with 13 bales per acre from two cuts so far, and I don't know if we'll get another cut with the way things are going. The yields of everything here in the west suffered with the weather, but I'm worried that the clover is beginning to die out in the field. It was certainly much more prominent in the sward last year.

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"I'm hopeful of getting another year out of it but I'm also considering stitching in some more seed with slurry next year," he said.

While there has been little or no Irish research on the effectiveness of stitching in clover into established swards, experts believe that it has potential given the relatively open nature of the silage aftermath.

Persistence is just one of the challenges poised by clover.

"It really doesn't like wet feet or any compaction. You'd even see the impact of the tracks of the slurry tanker on the crop for weeks afterwards. And it doesn't like being cut too low. That's why I do all the mowing myself and why you can only graze it lightly," said Mr Kirrane.

Teagasc estimate the cost of reseeding at over €350/ac if €90 for 10t of farmyard manure (FYM) is included.

The Kirrane farm generates 600t of FYM annually, which is seen as a valuable input in the operation.

"Much of the soil on this farm would be index 1 and 2 for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), and it's very difficult to get soil fertility up after you go organic because you can't just use a pile of artificial compound," Mr Clavin told farmers. "We estimate 1t of FYM to be the equivalent of a bag of 3:1.5:6, while 1t of organic or free-range poultry manure would be over four times richer. Some 1,000gal of cattle slurry equates to a bag of 6:5:30."

Farm facts

Farming 43.6ha at Cullane, Claremorris, Mayo

40pc leased, and fragmented in four blocks

18pc in red clover, rest in permanent pasture

1.5LU/ha, finishing 35hd/annum

Gross margin of €555/ha in 2014, before all payments

Flat rate of €4.90/kg for O and R grade cattle in 2015 from Slaney Meats

Indo Farming