Grassland farmers need to adopt a climate-smart approach to drive production – that was the message from the Germinal Seeds Technical Day recently.

The sixth-generation family company with headquarters in Belfast is a pioneer business at the heart of the evolution of the grass and forage seed industry.

One of the speakers – soil scientist Neil Fuller, from the Atlas Sustainable Soils Programme – talked about how cover crops could retain nutrients such as nitrogen whilst building a ‘brand-new proposition’ for agriculture in helping to mitigate climate change.

“The only piece of the puzzle that can get involved with carbon removals is farmers because they have land and that’s a unique proposition. The whole thing pivots around soil [sequestration],” he said.

Growing multi-species cover crops for 90 days after barley harvest retained 120kg of N and 32kg of phosphorus, three years of data showed.

“If it’s green, it’s growing, it’s multispecies, it’s really climate-friendly, and you’re taking the first steps towards climate-smart farming,” Dr. Fuller told the audience.

He demonstrated using a soil sample on a tray fitted with cameras underneath, how the soil structure is important for planting growing.

One of the messages was that utilising legumes and growing cover crops to protect soil health are climate-smart ways grassland farmers can lower inputs while continuing to drive production.

“Pasture utilised continues to be a key driver of profit per hectare. It is important we don’t start to see system drift. Grass and clover management will become increasingly important,” Mary McEvoy, Germinal Technical Director, told delegates.

She added: “Healthy soils will underpin the profitability of our systems. We need to maintain productive agricultural systems to ensure we can feed the world.

"Some 90 per cent of land in Ireland is in grass, which provides huge scope to sequester carbon at a national level," she said, adding: “Agriculture and the environment can have a very symbiotic relationship in the future.”

She highlighted the importance of using the Pasture Profit Index for grass seed to select top-performing varieties.

There is a €157 difference between the best and the worst perennial ryegrass on the list, she revealed.

There are exciting developments for Germinal in the future. A red clover, RedRunner, is one of the varieties being developed as part of the Nitrogen Utilisation Efficiency-Legume (NUE-Leg) project, which has recently secured €4million in grant supports from the UK Department of Environment and Rural Affairs for its next on-farm trial phase.

Project NUE-Leg seeks to combine newly-developed legume varieties with selected soil microbes and bespoke plant nutrition programmes to achieve a three-fold increase in fixing atmospheric nitrogen, to thereby eliminate dependence on fertiliser nitrogen.