Ryegrass not always the best option
This might sound like farming heresy, but ryegrass is often not the most suitable species to grow.
Lets look at what ryegrass likes – good soil fertility, even rainfall and adequate amounts, cooler summer temperatures and no insect pests.
If you line that up with the environment that many farmers actually have, we should not be surprised that farmers become disappointed at the performance and longevity of expensive sown ryegrass.
I think one of the things we need to do is make better choices about pasture species.
It's about making selections that match your environment. All those factors mentioned above need to be assessed on your farm.
Species like fescue, cocksfoot, lucerne, red clover and sub clover can be very useful in more challenging environments.
The "cost" of using these species is that we need to change the way pastures are managed. A small price to pay for improved production and longevity in challenging environments.
Also, we need to rethink concept of needing pastures with good all round seasonal production. You make your profit on farm by finishing stock and quickly.
Most of this is done in the spring and summer so we need to think about how we can get plenty of high quality feed into this period.
This is why lucerne and red clover use has increased. The cost is that these don't produce during the winter.
This is offset to a degree by having finishing stock of earlier so autumn covers can improve.
Taking the concept of choosing species to fit the environment a little further, if you decide to use these summer active, high quality pastures, then fodder beet will compliment this well.
Good yields of high quality feed on a reduced area and in winter.
What I'm saying is that we need to use pasture species that suit the environment and promote fast finishing of stock. Ryegrass can do this, but not in all environments.
Perhaps we have expected too much of ryegrass and put it in situations where it will fail because of grub, porina, low fertility, moisture stress, etc.
Put two or three of these factors together, then we should not be surprised about short longevity.
Graham Butcher is a farm consultant for Rural Solutions in Gore.