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HAVING experienced two successive wet summers, the law of averages suggests that this year should be better and that big yellow ball of fire in the sky should appear on a more regular basis. Hmm!!

I am no soothsayer, no meteorologist, no weather forecaster, but I will offer you a few words of wisdom from the latin author and poet Hanus Trevus: “Where the weather is concerned, assume that it is like a beautiful woman that you are trying to woo and captivate. When you think that you have really sussed her out and that you can predict her every turn, thought and action, that’s the very time that things can, and will, go monumentally wrong.’’ The message for the weather and women is to take a day and a step at a time. Don’t take liberties and assume the unexpected. That way, when it comes, you’ll be prepared – and being prepared is the basic theme for this month’s Diary. Whether we do indeed get a beautiful summer or a continuation of the monsoon season, you will have to decide pretty soon what you are going to do about supplementing the grazing ground. A dry summer will lead to a lot of pastures being burnt out or, at best, very low production and a wet summer will, once again, mean that access to grazing land becomes extremely limited – either way meaning that the cows are going to have to be fed some sort of forage or your clamp of valuable first cut silage is going to have to be opened up.

Kale - an extremely versatile crop that can be sown from April to early May, which can be fed from August onwards. Fresh weights usually tend to average out at about 25 tonnes per acre at 15 per cent dry matter and with crude protein levels at 16 to 17 per cent, this crop is seriously good for both dairy and beef cattle. Seed can be drilled or broadcast with a target population of 70 plants/sq metre. A good, clean seedbed will provide the most optimum establishment and check the pH is around 6.5. Flea beetle is probably one of the biggest threats to a brassicae crop, so close monitoring throughout the early growing season is advised. Clubroot represents the main disease threat, followed by alternaria and mildew and an appropriate varietal choice would be beneficial here with Caledonian offering good clubroot and general disease resistancy with Grampian having quite exceptional yields – an extra1.6 tonnes DM/Ha over Maris Kestrel – the control variety in SCRI Trials 1991 to 2007.

Kale is mostly strip grazed, but zero grazing is another option if you need the cows “off the fields’’. Nutritionists recommend that kale should not be fed any higher than 30 per cent to 35 per cent of the daily dry matter intake for dairy cows.

Forage Rape - if September is a bit too late to wait for supplementary grazing, then forage rape might be the answer. Sown from May onwards, this crop can be ready for grazing between 13 to 15 weeks, yielding up to 14 tonnes of fresh weight per acre at 12 to 14 per cent dry matter with crude protein levels touching 20 per cent. Good seedbed preparation is a must with seed being drilled at 2.5 kgs/acre or broadcast at four kgs/acre. Seedbed consolidation for moisture retention really does speed germination and helps establishment and check the pH is between 6.0 and 6.5. As this is another brassicae crop, flea beetle can still be a problem, so close monitoring in the early stages is essential. Powdery Mildew is potentially the biggest disease threat with varieties such as Hobson and Interval having good resistance.

Forage rape can be used for both cattle and sheep and should be gradually introduced into the diet over a two-week period.

Stubble Turnips By far and away the most popular catch crop as it is not only extremely versatile, the utilization period can be as quick as 12 weeks from date of sowing for example a late April to early May sowing can mean you could start grazing this crop as early as late July. Yields can be up to 16 tonnes of fresh weight per acre with dry matters around eight to nine per cent. Crude protein levels are also high at 17 to 18 per cent but is only found in the leaves - there is no protein in the bulb.

Seed can be drilled at 2 to 2.5 kgs per acre or broadcast at 3.5 kgs per acre with good seedbed preparation being a pre-requisite – pH 6.5 - followed by a firm consolidation.

The versatility of this crop permits many variations within rotations. For example crop sown in May following first cut silage, grazed during July and August, followed by either a conventional grass re-seed or winter cereal crop. Later sowings normally follow spring or winter barley and can then be grazed into the winter.

This is yet another brassicae crop and like both kale and forage rape, is susceptible to flea beetle attack so close monitoring of the early growth stages is very important. Can be fed to both sheep and cattle, but, as before, must be introduced gradually into the diet and as a precaution against milk taint, dairy cows should only be fed stubble turnips immediately after milking – removing them from the crop at least three hours before the next milking. Varietal choice is very important here as you have to decide what levels of crude protein you would like to go alongside the dry matter for example varieties such as Samson and Delilah will produce huge roots with big leaves, but Tyfon and Rondo has a much higher ratio of leaf to bulb therefore giving higher yields of crude protein, but still giving good dry matter yields. And finally, the three options I have quoted are to help supplement grazed grass during the summer and autumn. However, please do not forget the most important crop on the farm – grass – and how, with good management, you can still improve it’s yield potential during that extremely important summer and autumn period.

Assuming that you have not re-seeded over the past two or three years, the chances are that the quality and yield potential of most long term grassland has been severely impaired. Two successive wet summers has led to severe deterioration – poaching has been somewhat widespread, plants have been killed out and weed grasses have been allowed to develop in their place.

The best time for a conventional re-seed in the west country is the autumn i.e. anything from a July sowing following winter barley up to the end of September, but there are a few ‘quick fix’ options available should you be in a position of wanting to improve the performance of a particular sward, but cannot afford to plough up what you have already got.

A chat with your agronomist will result in a herbicide recommendation that will sort out the broad leaved weeds which can then be followed by either slot seeding or overseeding using tines or harrows. A high or an all tetraploid mixture will give a speedier germination due to its seed size and you can improve the chances of a good establishment even more by choosing mixtures with a bio-stimulant such as Headstart or Integral.

Remember that these are really quick fix options and they are not foolproof. New seeds will be sown into what will already be a competitive environment and any extra ‘managerial help’ from your goodselves will be worthwhile.