Survival of the Fittest: Part 2

In part two of this two-part series looking at the North Canterbury trial site in the Sub4Spring programme, farmer Hugh Dampier-Crossley explains why subterranean clover is such a valuable tool in their hill country farm system.
Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Aside from being involved in the Sub4Spring trial, Hugh, who was part of Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Sheep for Profit programme, is aiming to set up seed banks of sub clover over large areas of his 2288 ha hill country farm.

He says the Sheep for Profit programme highlighted the value of this early-season legume in driving ewe lactation and lamb growth rates, with some of the top performing farmers using the plant on their flat farms.

“I thought that if they can do it on the flat we can do it on the hill.”

He has been including sub clover in his seed mixes for the past six years and is managing those areas by shutting them off in late spring and summer to allow seed-set.

“If you get a good seed bank then it’s there in the ground and you won’t need to put any more seed on for a long time.”

He says while it can be tempting to graze sub clover pastures in late spring, early summer, especially where feed supply is short – it is important to allow the plants to set-seed and seedlings to establish in that first year.

“It doesn’t mean the feed is lost, it is just carrying it over for use at other times of the year.” 

Farmer observations

Hugh sees sub clover as an inexpensive way to significantly lift feed quality – and stock performance – on uncultivable hill country.

He believes a light spray of glysophate (1L/ha), combined with hard grazing by cattle, is sufficient to control pasture and open the area up for seed to be sown – when conditions allow.

“It’s got to be simple – you need to set yourself up before you fly on the seed in autumn – and if the rain doesn’t come – don’t do it.”

He estimates it would cost around $275/ha (chemical, seed and helicopter) to sow sub clover onto hill country, potentially lifting the ME of hill country pastures from around 9 to 12.

For Hugh and Lucy, establishing these self-regenerating legumes into their hill country is simply good business.

They are running a high-performing crossbred flock (scanning 200%) and realising this genetic potential in terms of kilograms of lamb requires high energy forages.

Hugh points out that the hill country on Koromiko is typical of many thousands of hectares of hill country in both islands where production is limited by poor quality, nitrogen-deficient pastures.

As Andrew Johnston from Luisetti Seeds points out, sub clover has the potential to transform hill country farming systems in a way that is environmentally responsible and sustainable – it’s just a case of implementing the correct management package.

“Sub’s ability to produce high quality, early season feed, while fixing nitrogen, makes it enormously valuable in dryland system."