Published 16 August 13

With both interest and opportunities for growing lucerne increasing in GB, the DairyCo Knowledge Transfer day, at Harper Adams University on 11 September, demonstrates work from a four-year project looking at the potential for lucerne on dairy farms in this country.

Researchers from the University of Reading, Harper Adams University and SRUC are investigating optimum strategies to grow lucerne here in Britain, and are also completing feeding trials to assess the value of lucerne in dairy cow diets.

“With an estimated 20,000ha planted in the UK every year, lucerne remains relatively small in comparison with mainland Europe,” says Debbie McConnell, DairyCo R&D Manager. “But research has estimated that there are 600,000 hectares of land in the UK which could actually support lucerne production.

“Interest in lucerne has increased with the crop having the potential to provide an economic source of home-grown protein, while reducing reliance on bought in fertiliser. It also has the ability to thrive in dry conditions as deep tap roots allow it to access water and nutrient further down the soil profile.

As lucerne is often slow to establish, it is important that optimum conditions are provided for the plant at this time. DairyCo is running trials to find out if spring or autumn sowing is better for lucerne production, and whether the presence of a cover crop (spring barley) aids the establishment of the crop.

Scientists are collecting information on weed infestation, completing establishment counts and recording first year yields to research which of these conditions works best.

A number of questions still remain over the optimum cutting strategy for lucerne, with some growers choosing to cut when a higher proportion of the crop has flowered. To investigate this further, researchers at the University of Reading are examining the effect of cutting time in relation to crop yields and herbage quality. The effect of this on intake rates and cow performance is also being investigated.

As well as this, it is important to consider how lucerne can be used to its maximum in dairy cow diets. To understand this better, a team of researchers are looking into:

  1. The optimum rate of inclusion of lucerne in dairy cow diets – cow performance at different rates of inclusion with both maize and grass silage.
  2. The effect of harvesting date of lucerne silage on cow intakes and cow performance.
  3. The effect of chop length of lucerne on digestibility and cow performance.

To hear more about lucerne, come and talk to the scientists at the DairyCo Research Day at HAU, near Newport in Shropshire, on 11 September 2013. The researchers will be talking about the latest results, from the lucerne work outlined above and will be on hand to answer any questions you may have about the crop.