In her latest Green Gold column, Bess Jowsey discusses how best to protect grass growth.

ONGOING social distancing and the spring weather have made the past month very unusual.

I believe it's been the longest period of sustained sunshine I’ve experienced since arriving from New Zealand ten years ago. While fine weather is welcome it has farmers nervous about the season to come.

Think back to the 2018 drought. Did you make the right decisions at the right time or were there things you should have done differently? Drawing on this experience could be extremely valuable if we continue to have minimal rainfall over the coming summer months.

The best thing you can do is have a plan. You may not need to implement it – by the time you’re reading this, we may be back to normal levels of precipitation across the north, but have a plan in case you need it.

The plan should start with protecting grass growth. This is two-fold. Do not graze a paddock before it has grown its third leaf – 45 per cent of the dry matter is in that third leaf. This means slowing your rotation length down to match leaf emergence. Many of you may have already done this, and those who actively monitor grass growth can do this more accurately. The second aspect is to protect regrowth – ensure stock are not on the same area for more than two days. Grass uses energy from its rootstock to push up its first leaf post-grazing, if this gets re-grazed prematurely a grass plant under stress from lack of moisture is likely to revert to growing seed-head in an effort to survive, or it will just stop growing altogether and perhaps die.

Slow the round length by reducing stocking rate if possible, include more ‘grazing area’ which would normally be ensiled, or increase supplementary feed like concentrates or buffer.

Secondly your plan should focus on winter forage. Delaying silage cutting to grow ‘bulk’ could be seen as a solution to a potential shortfall. This will likely push cutting to beyond heading date resulting in a drop in feed value – you will need to balance this with your stock requirements to know whether this is a suitable option.

Delaying cutting will also increase the risk of white stem developing at the base of the sward which will significantly slow regrowth post-cutting if it remains dry. What are your forage requirements for this winter? If you miss a cut of silage through summer will an autumn cut make up the shortfall? Knowing this will hopefully put you ahead in obtaining cheaper purchased feed if it’s needed.

If not already, we should all be moderating the use of N fertiliser. Without moisture the nitrogen is unavailable for plant uptake and a waste of money and nutrient. Once rain does arrive do not try and ‘catch up’ on missed applications. Dirty water can give a useful boost on grass reseeds or post-harvest but do not expect it offer more than a little short-term respite to more vulnerable plants.

For support with any of the topics discussed get in touch with me on 07717 732324 or email me on Please also listen to my podcast if you would like to enjoy a refresher on heat detection and breeding go to