Grass and forage crop specialist Barenbrug UK has updated its guidelines for establishing and managing its red clover varieties. It says this is in response to a surge in enquiries about protein-rich forage legumes, driven by high soya prices, nitrogen management concerns and carbon reduction efforts.

“Soya has been trading at well over £400/tonne this year,” notes Mhairi Dawson, Barenbrug UK’s research and development manager and regional manager for Scotland. “That’s prompted people to give more consideration to how they source their essential protein ration.”

At the same time, she believes the NFU’s pledge to deliver Net Zero by 2040 has sharpened a lot of minds. “Talking to farmers, it’s clear that they are making more conscious decisions to reduce food miles – high in the case of imported soya – and trying to cut back on carbon-intensive inputs such as nitrogen fertilisers. The post-Brexit policy focus on agri-environmental issues has prompted speculation that the NVZ areas could expand, or that there will be an altogether stricter approach to nitrogen applications.”

“Defra’s recent urea fertiliser consultation has increased expectations that things will change, eventually, and I think that’s encouraged farmers to consider how they might adapt their operations, to adopt a more sustainable approach.”

Red clover’s ability to fix nitrogen at around 200kg per hectare per year is an opportunity to reduce artificial nitrogen, while maintaining a high-quality forage, Ms Dawson continues. Its palatability and protein content promote increased intakes to lift milk yield and daily liveweight gain. The deep rooting is beneficial for soil structure, and the plant provides a food source for pollinators.

“Red clover has the potential to be a valuable crop for UK livestock farmers, but careful management is required, to maintain its population in the sward. We identified the management practices that deliver the best results to inform our new red clover management guidelines,” she concludes.