In her first column of 2020, Bess Jowsey says the new year is bound to bring its own challenges, but some things we can rely on.

WELCOME to 2020! Over the past 12 months I’ve written a column about Green Gold. I’ve attempted to impart a sense of enthusiasm and urgency in relation to grassland management and how some improvements would benefit your livestock business.

2019 was a vastly different growing year to 2018. And 2020 will offer its own set of challenges. But there are some things we can rely upon: come February soil temperature will start to rise, and day length will encourage grass growth.

Those who followed my advice last autumn and ‘stored’ a wedge of pasture for the spring will be growing the most. In April sometime, grass growth will suddenly shoot, and we’ll go from a relative famine of pasture to a feast.

Being prepared to deal with this rapid increase in pasture supply is one of the most significant challenges grassland farmers face every year. Decisions around this time are crucial to ensuring the quality of pasture for the rest of the season without incurring unnecessary costs. Discussion groups I run are a fantastic way for farmers to learn from other farmers how they manage this.

One thing I haven’t mentioned as much so far is soil. All farmers utilising land are soil farmers. It anchors our crop, it provides the nutrient for growth, and is the mechanism for moisture uptake.

Through the crop, soil and sunlight provide our stock with life sustaining nutrition. And I would argue that grass is the most reliable and cost-effective crop for livestock in the North. Without soil we can not farm.

A common farming mantra from my native New Zealand is ‘look after the land, the land will look after the grass, the grass will look after the stock, and the stock will look after you’. While it’s obviously a lot more complicated than this, I believe the philosophy is sound.

Human understanding of crop management is vast and well researched. But this understanding is largely based on what the crop requires. The notion of mining nutrient from soil is well understood, and the response has been to administer that nutrient via inorganic or organic means is equally understood.

The notion of mining soil, however, is a more recent concept, especially in a commercial farming setting. Human understanding of microbiology within the soil and how it interacts with the flora and fauna around it is still in its infancy. Research and regulation now centre around the environmental and social impact of farming. Embracing these, while producing food profitably, will be a challenge for us all, but fundamentally I believe a pastural based system ticks a great number of these boxes and puts your business ahead of the curve.

I invite you to join me again this year as I offer further advice and tips and would welcome a phone call and a chat if you’d like to know more specifically how these can be applied on your farm. Bess Jowsey, LIC Pasture to Profit consultant phone 0771773232 or email me on