Fermanagh farms participating in the GrassCheck weekly grass measuring project grew more grass than most over parts of Northern Ireland in 2021.

Over the past 23 years, the GrassCheck programme has been fundamental in assisting ruminant livestock farmers maximise returns from grazed grass.

This initiative led by AgriSearch, AFBI and CAFRE, in partnership with DAERA, has monitored year on year variations in grass growth, providing valuable information to both farmers and policy makers during this time.

Grazed grass is the cheapest form of feed available for ruminant livestock in Northern Ireland.

With grassland accounting for more than 90 per cent of the utilised agricultural area of Northern Ireland, good grassland management is critical to the profitability and sustainability of the dairy, beef and sheep sectors, helping to lower input costs and increase resilience to increased concentrates prices.

Indeed, boosting productivity from grassland has been shown to reduce phosphorus build-up on farms, and grass-fed meat and milk provides a healthier product for the consumer.

Grassland also has an important role in sequestering carbon. Work conducted over the past 50 years at AFBI Hillsborough has shown that well-managed grassland can sequester more than 800kg of carbon per hectare per year.

Over 23 years, the GrassCheck plots at Hillsborough and Greenmount have averaged 11.6tDM/ha (ranging from 9.2 – 13.8t DM/ha). In 2021, the plots yielded 10.9t DM/ha.

Grass growth in 2021 deviated considerably from the seasonal norm, with a cold, dry spring followed by a surge in growth, with an extended dry period then causing a considerable downturn in growth during late June and July.

As a result of the changing grass growth patterns, the 10-year average grass growth curve we will be using in this year’s bulletins has changed considerably from the one used last year.

The updated 10-year average growth has dropped from 12.6t DM/ha to 11.8t DM/ha, as we have dropped the good growth figures from 2011 and picked up the impact of frequent droughts in more recent years.

The impact of the dry weather has become particularly noticeable in the east, with Co. Down growing 20 per cent less grass than County Fermanagh in 2021.

During March to October, Co. Down only received 329mm (13 inches) of rain, compared to 459mm (18 inches) in Fermanagh.

GrassCheck bulletins will resume next week. Full weekly weather and growth data is available on the AgriSearch website.