AHDB Dairy and AHDB Beef and Lamb Lucerne event 9 June

Published 19 June 15

Lucerne event

Sheep, beef, dairy and arable farmers attended a Lucerne event held at Stowell Farm, near Chippenham, to learn more about the potential of growing Lucerne in the UK climate. Francis Dunne from Field Options was our excellent expert speaker on the day and he began by commenting that Lucerne was not for everyone. He explained that a Lucerne crop will last for four to six years and so careful thought must go into planning a rotation.

Lucerne can:

  • Consistently deliver 26% protein
  • Give up four or five cuts per year
  • Provides active fibre and structure for a ration
  • Boost DM intakes
  • Be drought tolerant
  • Grows well on light land
  • Yield an average of 12t DM/ha (less in the year of establishment)
  • Has no N requirement
  • Fulfil the greening requirement for BPS and is low energy.

On the other hand Lucerne is P and K hungry, needs a four year break and does not like wet ground. Potential growers should consider whether they have the right land, do they have the labour available to grow and conserve it and will it suits their stock’s diet?

Lucerne requires a pH of between 6.5 and 8 so it is essential to soil test before establishing a crop. As Lucerne is a very deep rooting crop, up to two metres in the third year, seedbed preparation must ensure the pan is broken. Our host’s crop demonstrated that Lucerne roots will veer off at a 90 degree angle if they hit a pan! 

Our host drilled tall fescue with Lucerne, and baled the crop to feed to his Lleyn sheep. This crop was free of weeds but it is essential to consider which ‘companion’ crop you use so that it does not compete with the Lucerne at establishment.

A pure Lucerne crop will generally outgrow most weeds after the first cut - but not docks. Other potential companion crops are red clover, timothy, cocksfoot, meadow fescue and spring barley. Oats are too competitive and winter cereals do not work well.

Francis informed us that sowing should be carried out between April and mid-August (April is best) as the crop is temperature dependent for establishment and needs to flower in the first year. Direct drilling has been done in the USA but seed depth and moisture are the key factors for success. Seeds should be drilled to 10-20mm and be aware that it is autotoxic; ie once germinated it will not allow further Lucerne seedlings to grow so you cannot fill in any gaps. 

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