Most farmers who have leys in their rotations use them to improve soil quality and around half use them as a black-grass management tool, according to early results from a grass and herbal leys farm network.
The network, which was launched by ADAS, AHDB and Defra in February 2018, is a partnership between farmers, researchers and industry. All network members have an interest in understanding the long-term impacts associated with the use of leys in rotations.
Of the 177 people registered within the network (as at 15 July 2018), 133 responded to an online survey designed to capture their current use of or interest in grass and herbal leys.
Of the respondents, 61 (46 per cent) were farmers. Around three quarters of these farmers had leys in the rotation, either as part of a mixed farming system or for beef/lamb production (less than 10 per cent were dairy farmers). Leys were either cut for silage or grazed (largely using paddock or mob grazing systems, rather than set stocking).
Approximately 80 per cent of farmer respondents had leys that included legumes/herbal species (only 8 per cent had pure grass swards). Leys were typically (73 per cent) in place for three to five years.
Just under half of the farmer respondents used plough-based cultivations to establish arable crops after the ley, whereas around a quarter used minimum tillage (28 per cent) and direct drill (26 per cent) methods. Farmers who didn’t use plough-based cultivations were more likely to use weed killer to help destroy the ley.
Most farmers (over 90 per cent) said they used leys to improve soil quality and around half said leys had helped with the management of black-grass.
The full range of soil types and agro-climatic conditions are represented by the network – from north east Scotland to south west England. ADAS is interested in hearing from anyone who would like to join the network. To register, visit adas.uk/services/Grass-and-herbal-leys-farm-network
Further information on the extensive opportunities for including livestock within the arable rotation, including the grazing of arable land, growing crops for silage or hay and arranging muck-for-straw deals, can be accessed from the AHDB ‘Livestock and the arable rotation’ guide – www.cereals.ahdb.org.uk/livestock