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Was it Gulliver, Swift or Stapledon?

Date Added: 29/04/2016

Blog: By Richard Elsdon, Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

I was trying to find the author of a quotation that related to making two blades of grass grow where only one grew before. I had it in my mind that it was first attributed to Sir George Stapledon (1882-1960) founder of the plant breeding station at Aberystwyth.

However, some desk research revealed the original quotation came from Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) an Irish writer and satirist who, amongst many other things, wrote ‘Gulliver’s Travels in 1726.  This book is the source of the quotation for which I was searching and it comes from chapter 7, ‘Voyage to Brobdingnag’. The correct quotation reads “And he gave it for his opinion that whosoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.”

It would seem that Mr Swift was pro-farmers and anti-politicians!

I was reminded of this quotation when I learned that the latest version of the Recommended Grass and Clover List had been produced under a range of nitrogen inputs varying from 400kg per ha down to 100kg per ha. This regime was used because the annual nitrogen application to grassland had dropped from 150kg per ha in 1990 to 60kg per ha in 2014. The rankings of the varieties under test did not change between nitrogen application rates, giving a remarkable robustness to the results.

Where does this leave the grassland farmer? In my view it further underlines the need to continuously assess the grass output on the farm and to be prepared to re-seed the worst performing fields. Once output has started to drop, it is an indication that it is time to re-seed as it is very unlikely to recover. One should in any case re-seed in order get the best out of these higher-output varieties.

Rather than thinking re-seeding should only take place in the autumn, I maintain that growers should think in terms of a late spring re- seed.  Done at the time when grass growth is starting to really move, it can mean that a field can still achieve worthwhile production this growing season.  

There is every likelihood that, if sown when soil temperatures are starting to lift and day length is increasing, establishment will be rapid.  One technique I particularly liked involved spraying off with glyphosate. This means waiting for the old grass to turn the yellow/light purple colour (indicative of the effectiveness of the herbicide) and then minimum cultivate or direct drill the new ley followed by a heavy roll.  In this way, moisture is retained, as is the ability of the ground to withstand treading by grazing livestock, should we have a wet period.

We all know that grazed grass is the cheapest source of nutrition for ruminant livestock. Regardless of your nitrogen input regime, putting up with a poorly performing grass field is not in your best interests, nor that of your livestock. With the current rather grim returns in agriculture, output must be optimised. So go ahead, make two blades of grass grow where only one grew. Messrs Gulliver, Swift, and Stapledon are watching you!

You may be aware that United Oilseeds, via Hubbard’s Seeds, has access to a range of high quality grass and grass & clover seed mixtures.  Please consult your area manager for more details.

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