Lucerne could have a key role in helping to future–proof many UK dairy farms, such is its potential as a source of homegrown protein and quality fibre.
This is the view of Germinal GB’s National Agricultural Sales Manager Ben Wixey, who sees the crop as being massively underutilised in the UK despite the availability of semi–dormant varieties well–suited to the climate.
Simon Gittins is growing a semi–dormant lucerne variety supplied by Germinal and is embarking on a zero–grazing and crop–drying enterprise that he hopes will produce a valuable high protein dairy feed.
“Lucerne is the world’s most extensively grown forage crop and is popular in countries with similar conditions to our own, such as Germany, and yet it is only grown on a tiny proportion of UK farms,” he said, speaking at a training day for the agricultural trade in Shropshire. “It requires free–draining soils and a soil pH of at least 6.2, but in these circumstances and with the right management it can yield 10–15 tonnes of dry matter that is high in protein, rich in trace minerals and is an excellent source of quality fibre. It is an ideal complement to maize silage in dairy rations and – being a legume that will fix its own nitrogen – can be grown without the cost of artificial nitrogen fertiliser.”
Mr Wixey believes lucerne, which is typically spring–sown from the end of April, could become part of many farms’ forage armoury to help build more resilient businesses in the future.
Lucerne silage is a rumen–friendly forage that provides a valuable source of protein and quality fibre.
“Maximising the amount of quality forage that is grown on the farm is the best way to future–proof your business,” he added. “Lucerne could have a part to play in this, especially as a source of protein that reduces reliance on bought–in alternatives, such as soya, which will always be at risk of price volatility.”
When selecting lucerne for UK conditions, Mr Wixey advised farmers to aim for varieties with dormancy ratings of between 4 and 5, and good resistance to common diseases such as verticillium wilt. He also recommended the use of pre–inoculated pelleted seed that was certified ‘dodder–free’.
Watch agriculture expert Helen Mathieu on farm in Shropshire advising on drilling lucerne, followed by real life footage of harvesting and drying the crop in preparation for baling to produce a high protein and high fibre feed.
More About Lucerne
You can find out more about growing lucerne in our Lucerne Growers Guide.