Project code: D-21-04

Duration 4 years commencing January 2004

Pictured at the Handover of Final Report on Low Input Forages to AgriSearch

Team and Leader Arnoud Hameleers, Lindsay Easson and Peter Frost

Organisations Involved Agriculture Research Institute of Northern Ireland and Department ofAgriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland.

Background and Summary

Proposed changes in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will probably result in an extensification of land use in Northern Ireland agriculture. Land will have to be kept in `an agricultural state`. Possibly, levels of part time farming and the use of contractors will increase. 

Dairy farmers will probably stay intensive in terms of land use near to the farm with more extensive land use, further away from the farm. Dairy farmers, on the basis of the AgriSearch questionnaire (2003), identified one of the main problems currently encountered was slurry disposal during the grass growing season, and the need to have areas available to which slurry can be applied. Areas near the farm are used for grazing and/or intensive silage cutting routines and give little opportunity for slurry disposal. It is therefore proposed to investigate what role low input extensive forage crops could play in terms of producing forage and integrating this with environmentally responsible disposal of slurry in areas of land which have to be kept in `an agricultural state`. In current high input dairy systems, forage quality, in terms of digestibility, is of lesser importance since they form a minor component of the diet. It is proposed to investigate the potential of 8 different perennial forage crops with high yield potential, low labour requirements, using a two cut system, at 3 levels of slurry application.

Pictured at the Handover of Final Report on Low Input Forages to AgriSearch were from left: Scott Laidlaw (AFBI, Crossnacreevy), Roger McCracken (AgriSearch Dairy Committee), Harper Doupe (AgriSearch Dairy Committee) and Andrew Dale (AFBI, Hillsborough)

The selected forages are Red Clover, Ryegrass/White Clover, Alfalfa, Timothy and four types of ryegrass (Diploid, Tetraploid, Hybrid and Italian). The slurry will be applied using a low emission slurry application system (trailing shoe system). The response of these forage crops will then be measured in terms of their production potential, nutrient assimilation capacity, nutritional quality, competitveness and persistence and labour requirements. Perennial crops have been chosen as they facilitate high levels of nutrient uptake (N,P,K), lower labour requirements and reduced need for ploughing. The latter releases a large amount of nutrients to the environment.

The research would allow the farmers to make informed decisions on how to use slurry in an environmentally responsible way using different forage crop options and to know the implications of their use as a feed resource. The research also has strategic importance in that it can be used to influence policy makers to define sensible management rules in how to keep land in an agricultural state. The activities to be developed are:

a) Implementation of a large scale evaluation experiment for a 5 year period using 8 different perennial forage crops
b) Continuous monitoring of forage crops during 5 year period
c) Four evening visits with farmers groups will be organised to discuss results and view crops
d) A booklet with the results will be produced and presented to the industry.


March 2004 - Sowing of different forage crops

August 2004 - Evening walk with interested farmers

March 2005 - Report year 1 data presented to AgriSearch

August 2005 - Evening walk with interested farmers
March 2006 - Report year 2 data presented to AgriSearch
August 2006 - Evening walk with interested farmers
March 2007 - Report year 3 data presented to AgriSearch
August 2007 - Evening walk and various meetings with interested farmers
December 2007 - Final report and booklet presented to AgriSearch.


1. Farmers will be able to make informed decisions on low input perennial forage crops
2. Farmers will make better use of slurry and apply it at appropriate times
3. Improved and informed discussions with policy makers on how to keep land in `an agricultural state`.

See the technical report here.

FileDescriptionFile size
Download this file (Agrisearch Report Low Input Forages (D-21-04).pdf)Low input foragesLow input forages for dairy cow production systems - D-21-04673 kB