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UK Farmers Observe Lucerne Potential

14 August 2013

FRANCE - Grazing specialists say there is scope for farmers to adopt alphalpha (lucerne) grass as an alternative forage option.

This was the message of EBLEX after the study tour of french lucerne growers in the Poitou-Charentes region. 

The tour visited dairy cow and goat farms where lucerne is cropped for forage like it is in North and South America where it accounts for 64 per cent of total production. 

Worldwide the crop covers some 30 milloin hectares and is enjoying a renaissance in France where 300,000 hectares is grown - 15 times that of UK cropping (20,000 hectares).

EBLEX livestock scientist Liz Genever said: “Alternative forages have become an increasingly hot topic in recent years, as the unpredictable weather has made grass shortages a reality and has given producers the impetus to investigate other options.

“Lucerne isn’t suitable for every situation as it doesn’t grow well in wet, heavy soils, but there is definitely scope to increase our production. I believe we can realistically double – or even treble – the amount we’re currently growing.

“As a result of this study tour, we will be providing practical advice to beef and sheep farmers on how best to grow and utilise this crop. Hopefully this will give more producers the confidence to trial it on their own farm.”

Beef farmer Andrew Allan, who manages the Portman Estate in Buckinghamshire, was one of the delegates on the tour.

MR Allan said: “I found the trip really useful on a practical level, as there’s very little information available in this country about the agronomy of lucerne.

“The advice we were given about using dormancy ratings to select the right varieties was particularly helpful.

“Speaking to farmers who are growing Lucerne was also very valuable, especially learning about cutting height and frequency, how to make it into hay without leaf shatter, and how the crop is stored and utilised by stock.”

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