Our recent webinar opened with a case study by Nick Broadwith, a Wensleydale beef farmer with 250 head of cattle on a 150-acre farm with an additional 50 acres of rented land.
Nick uses a four year legume and herb rich ley which he aims to get in as early as possible following spring barley. Forage rape in the mix provides protection to the more delicate herbs leading to strong establishment. The ley is winter grazed by sheep and bounces back the following spring, ready for the cattle.
Access to water proved to be a major challenge on the farm over the summer as the streams dried up. However, the diverse leys proved resilient during the hot, dry weather. While forced to sacrifice some silage fields for grazing, overall the leys performed well. Nick described how the diverse mix contributed to resilience as the species dominance varied with the changing conditions.
Nick described how he is "turning precision agriculture on its head" as he employs similar tactics in his winter cereals. Rather than applying nutrients to meet the specific needs of the crops, Nick uses a mix of oats and barley to maximize the use of available nutrients. The distribution of each species is self-selecting across the field.
Nick’s faith in diverse leys was evident. “Don’t underestimate these diverse leys,” Nick said, “I’ve been absolutely blown away by what they can do.”
Handing over to the PASTORAL team, Iain Cameron of Environment Systems showed what summer looked like from space, the typical green giving way to vast swathes of brown.
As part of the PASTORAL project, we have observation of over 500 fields. The data shows that reductions in biomass this summer compared to last were evident. While the mood of the webinar turned somewhat somber as we considered the impact of future frequent and extreme weather events predicted, we took comfort from the recovery of grasslands this Autumn.
We could see the effect drought had on grass across the country this summer, but what impact did it have on carbon dynamics?
Vasilis Myrgiotos from the University of Edinburgh explained how PASTORAL is modelling carbon flows based on the changes we see in above ground biomass.