A PARTNERSHIP between a specialist land-based college and the farming industry has been launched with the aim of creating a northern centre of excellence for forage.

Staff and students at Askham Bryan College's Cumbria base at Newton Rigg have teamed up with industry experts resulting in field scale grass trials sown on 18 acres (7.24 hectares), with eight different leys at the college's Sewborwens Farm.

Askham Bryan specialises in running agriculture and rurally-based courses and has been the venue for the Grassland North event for a number of years. Working with the College are teams from Agrovista, Barenbrug, Carrs Billington, CF Fertilisers and Pioneer.

James Todd, Farms Manager at Newton Rigg said: ”Cumbria is well known as a good grass growing area with a dairy specialism so it makes sense to capitalise on that, for the benefit not only of our students, but for farmers in the region and beyond as they look to maximise yields and improve land management.

“As a college we are keen to share best practice and working with our partners enables us to have the science to inform the practical delivery, making our forage work harder for us and also informing the wider industry.”

Students studying agriculture will be involved in the project gathering and analysing data such as measuring grass quality, growth and yield as part of their studies.

Mr Todd said: “We want those students to not only increase their knowledge, but to take it back to their own farms or employers and question decisions about why things are done the way they are and to start quantifying the outcomes. That way, British farming continues to progress and improve.”

Seed for the trials has been provided by Barenbrug, through Carrs Billington. Mhairi Dawson, Barenbrug's research & development manager said: “When Carrs Billington approached us about getting involved we were keen to participate. James’s plan to increase milk from forage is a good goal which all forward-thinking farmers will be emulating so it's very topical."

The trials will measure dry matter content, D value, ME, sugar content, NDF and yield.

Agrovista has worked with Newton Rigg for a number of years, and latterly to a greater extent, including involvement with the college's forage maize crop trials.

Agronomist Steven Gate said: “Our primary aim is to help farmers get the best from their established grass acres and that's relevant to every farmer, whether they have livestock or not. The importance of these trials is the recognition of grass as a farm managed crop. Good management leads to higher yields with less bought in seed, which makes financial sense. Working with the college enables us to help change outdated perceptions in grassland and forage management.”

Support has also come from CF Fertilisers. Regional Manager Mark Garrett visited the college to discuss how they could become involved bringing a renewed focus to crop nutrition with their centre of grassland excellence.

He said: “The emphasis on farm profitability means farmers are having to re-think their existing systems. Therefore, our ambition is to demonstrate, in practical field conditions, how the right fertiliser choice links directly with top agronomic and livestock performance.

“We will involve our CF agronomy team, with their expertise and years of R&D to show how blue bags really do grow better crops, whether that’s as directly available Nitrogen in Ammonium Nitrate based fertilisers and its timing / application rate or Sulphur for added yield and quality.”