Grassland Competition Finalists 2015

Grassland Competition Finalists 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Three BGS Grassland Farmer competition finalists have been selected and judged; they now wait to find out who will win at the awards evening on 23rd September.

Judging for the BGS Grassland Farmer of the Year award is a detailed and inclusive process. Starting with local nominations in June it then progresses through regional rounds and on to the national, where the three finalists are selected before judges hone in on their credentials with visits to each of their farms. The lucky contenders that have made it through to the final hurdle this year are Colin Boggs, a dairy farmer from Co Down (Northern Ireland); Gethin Brown, a dairy farmer from Pembrokeshire (Wales); and Ralph Messenger, a suckler herd and beef farmer from Dorset (South West).

Colin Boggs runs a spring-block dairy herd near Banbridge Co Down. His NZ influenced system aims to limit concentrates used by ensuring good quality grazing is constantly in front of the cows, and despite low concentrate inputs he achieves a surprising 6430 litres per cow, over 4000 of which is from grass alone. Investment in cow tracks has made paddock rotation more manageable whilst limiting damage by treading and he’ll also pre-mow everything from the second rotation onwards to improve grass utilisation and maintain sward quality. Another investment made on the farm is a series of four reed beds, used to filter dirty water from the yard and parlour washings. Covering about 2.5 acres this beds not only save money by reducing the amount of slurry storage and spreading operations needed, but also provide a niche wildlife habitat.

Gethin Brown runs 550 milking cows with 600 followers (in calf heifers and calves) also on a NZ style spring-block system on 280 hectares of pasture. The farm also includes some sand dunes and wetlands managed by conservation grazing and 19 hectares of arable. Weekly grass measurements across all the pastures contribute strongly to Gethin’s decision making, including when to reseed each field. The whole area is renewed in a ten year period, with diploid varieties being selected to provide good tillering for the thick sward and for their response to nitrogen. Zonal soil nutrient mapping has also been used to increase precision of nutrient applications in reseeds and reduce costs on inappropriate fertiliser applications.

Ralph Messenger brings a non-dairy contingent to this year’s final three, running an organic beef suckler herd near Dorchester. 150 Aberdeen Angus X and 4 Limousin bulls are kept along with 30 followers each year, whilst other progeny are sold at 18 – 24 months old as fat cattle on an organic contract. Cattle are outwintered using a paddock system with round bale silage, oats in the trough and mineral blocks. Perennial ryegrass leys include 10-40% clover, whilst multi-species herbal leys are also brought into the rotation from early spring onwards. The herbal leys are oversown in spring oat crops in fields that have previously been used for outwintering, reducing the existing sward to nothing and helping minimise pest burden. Ralph is luckily on a sandy soil where such a strategy can be managed. His farm is also entirely in an NVZ, he manges HLS and ELS agreements and has sme land classified as SSSI (site of special scientific interest) and SNCI (site of nature conservation interest).


To find out who will be awarded the title of BGS Grassland Farmer of the Year 2015 continue to follow us on our website and soil media, and remember no one will know until it’s announced at our awards evening in on 23rd September.

BGS would like to congratulate everyone that entered the competition; there can only be three finalists and one winner though it is acknowledged that all the entrants and regional winners have already made great achievements in winner their local and regional heats respectively.

BGS also thanks the competition sponsors DLF Trifolium and Yara for their support of and commitment to the competition without which it would not be possible.


Photo – Judges examine swards at Gethin Brown’s Pembrokeshire dairy farm.



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