Rebooting rotations with diverse species swards

Rebooting rotations with diverse species swards22 June 2021

Diverse species swards that fulfil Stewardship requirements can be used to rejuvenate soils whilst also generating good returns from forage production.

This was the message from Field Options at Groundswell 2021, with the company highlighting results from its own dedicated trials programme for forage crop mixtures such as its legume and herb rich GS4 Eco-Pasture and SW7 Eco-Meadow for arable reversion.

According to Field Options director Francis Dunne, integrating two- or three-year leys of this kind into arable rotations delivers greater benefits than is possible with shorter term cover crops. Through selection of the most appropriate forage crop mixtures for a given rotation, the impact should be positive for soil health, wildlife, and all following crops. As such, he says diverse species swards could become an important part of future arable farming practice as new environmental land management schemes (ELMS) come into being.

“There is an opportunity to ‘turbocharge’ your soils through the use of diverse species swards,” says Francis. “Putting land into Stewardship need not result in sacrificing productivity. It can be a ‘win-win’ option, whereby selecting the best performing varieties within the permitted species can radically improve field performance whilst still allowing Stewardship payments to be claimed.

“A mixture like GS4 Eco-Pasture has a broad range of grasses, legumes and herbs, but with all varieties selected for performance and compatibility, so it will provide high quality forage for grazing or cutting over two or three years, or longer. The performance capabilities of these swards also make them suitable for use outside of any Stewardship scheme where sward diversity is required.”

At Groundswell 2021, Field Options showed the results of a number of trials on diverse species swards. In addition to demonstrating the value of species diversity, the trials highlight the value of inoculating clover with the ideal rhizobium and show how soil biological activity can be accelerated by introducing a range of mycorrhiza and rhizobacteria with the diverse species sward.