Scientific Coordinator Scottish Agricultural College, Agronomy Department, Craibstone Estate, Bucksburn Aberdeen, Scotland, AB21 9YA
The general objective of this European Union-funded four-year (1999 to 2003) project is to increase the uptake and utilization of white clover in European grassland farming systems by:
(a) demonstrating new technology to improve the performance and reliability of grass/ white clover pastures on commercial farms; and
(b) organizing a programme of publicity to highlight the benefits of the new technology demonstrated.
A total of 24 demonstration farms have been established throughout Europe, located in areas that favour white clover growth.
Seven are located in the UK (three in England/Wales, two in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland), two in the Irish Republic, four in the Netherlands, three in northwest Germany, four in northwest France and four in northwest Spain.
The farms have been chosen to represent widely varying soil and climatic conditions and include both conventional and organic farming systems.
Each farm will implement the same clover technology package which contains the following components:
the use of the latest ABER varieties of white clover from the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, Aberystwyth;
pelleted seed inoculated with superior strains of rhibzobia developed by the UK Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research;
the use of compatible grass varieties such as the more erect diploid and tetraploid perennial ryegrasses, the choice depending on local research and experience;
new oversowing techniques which introduce the grass/clover mixtures into existing permanent pasture without the necessity of ploughing and reseeding by traditional methods; and
a pasture management package to encourage and manipulate clover growth in a way that reduces unpredictability, optimizes clover contribution and enhances the reliability of grass/clover pastures.
Keywords: white clover, inoculation, oversowing, pelleted seed, technology transfer
This project represents a major attempt on a European wide-scale to harness the outcome of many years of research on white clover. It brings together past and recent research results into a technology package designed to overcome the practical problems frequently encountered at farm level in maintaining an adequate and consistent content of white clover in clover dependent pastures.
Grass/white clover pastures are frequently perceived by livestock farmers to be less reliable and more difficult to manage than nitrogen fertilized pastures. Grassland farmers are generally reluctant to employ traditional ploughing and reseeding methods to establish clover dominant pastures and are unimpressed by the direct drilling techniques practised in the past.
Furthermore, grassland farmers are often unaware of the management practices that are most beneficial to clover growth and frequently lose the clover component of their pastures by default.
Consequently, researchers and advisers wishing to encourage greater use of white clover in European grassland systems face a major challenge in overcoming the reservations and malpractices of farmers.
Grass renovation/renewal machinery has existed for many years but such equipment is not in common use in present day grassland management. This type of equipment when coupled with a seed distribution box can provide an effective low cost method of introducing seeds into existing pastures. The success of such oversowing techniques, however, depends to a large extent on appropriate pre-conditioning of the pasture prior to carrying out the operation.
Recent advances in white clover breeding programmes has led to the development of more winter hardy, persistent, N tolerant and higher yielding varieties with earlier spring growth. These attributes when combined with inoculation and pelleting of the seed should result in the better establishment and persistence of the introduced clover, assuming appropriate husbandry management procedures are adopted.
Results of recent research have provided a better understanding of the factors influencing clover growth and survival, allowing more effective advice to be given to farmers.
It is hoped that the technological information combined in the package to be evaluated in this project will overcome the many perceived and real problems associated with farming grass/white clover pastures.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
A total of seven research organizations participated in the project. These are listed below along with the name of the country project leader (CPL).
United Kingdom and Ireland
1. Scottish Agricultural College (Main Contractor) CPL: Mr David Younie
2. Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research CPL: Dr Gwyn Moseley
3. Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland CPL: Dr David Patterson
Christian-Albrechts University CPL: Dr Michael Wachendorf
Louis Bolk Instituut CPL: Dr Ton Baars
Institut de L'Elevage CPL: Dr Andre Le Gall
Centro de Investigacions Agrizaries de Mabegondo CPL: Dr Juan Piniero
Project Scientific Coordinator Mr Andrew Stewart
Pelleted inoculated seed for the project is being supplied by the UK based company, Germinal Holdings while the oversowing equipment is provided by the Austrian company, Hatzenbichler.
The CPL is responsible for the selection of suitable farms and overseeing implementation of the technology package.
The work programme involves the oversowing of selected fields on participating farms during the first two years of the project with 6 kg/ha of pelleted inoculated clover seed plus grass seed as appropriate. An untreated area will be left in each oversown field for comparative purposes.
CPLs and participating farmers will closely monitor the contribution made by the introduced clover using simple visual assessment techniques while pasture output will be assessed using the New Zealand falling plate meter. Appropriate training will be given to those responsible for pasture management on participating farms to ensure that clover contribution is maximized.
The participating farms in the latter half of the project will form a focal point in each country for a programme of publicity designed to encourage a greater reliance on and use of white clover by local grassland farmers.
Advisory leaflets on clover management will be produced in the language of the participating country along with a video depicting methods of pasture preparation for oversowing, the oversowing technique employed and the subsequent results.
In addition an internet website will be created to publicize the outcome of the project and provide a forum for the exchange of information on white clover and its management.
No results are available to date as the first oversowing of sites on participating farms is scheduled for autumn 1999.
The author wishes to gratefully acknowledge the willing cooperation of the participating organizations and in particular, the efforts of the CPLs in designing the project and steering it through the approval process of the European Commission.
This project is being part-financed by the European Community under the Agriculture and Fisheries programme (FAIR) of the Fourth Framework programme for research, technological development and demonstration.