Three years ago, Finnish grassland consultants Anu Ellä and Jarkko Storberg came to Britain looking for ways to make their farmers’ fields more productive.

The traditional timothy/fescue silage leys in Finland are hardy enough to stand up to harsh winters and deep snow, followed by intense, hot summers, but often lack any ‘bottom’, leaving lots of bare soil between each plant. Annual overseeding is common and total yields disappointing at about 5t DM/ha.

A typical timothy/fescue silage crop

A typical timothy/fescue silage crop.

A typical Finnish dairy farm – note the brand new cow house (top right) and silage bales wrapped in white and stored on their flat end, one high.

A typical Finnish dairy farm – note the brand new cow house (top right) and silage bales wrapped in white and stored on their flat end, one high.

Then they persuaded some of their farmers to reseed with these new mixtures. The most popular one contains:
• 55% Timothy
• 15% Tall fescue
• 15% Meadow fescue
• 15% Perennial Ryegrass
• + 4-5kg of a blend of red, white and alsike clover.

Sowing rates for a complete reseed are a high 25-30kg to allow for winter losses, and overseeding is done at a rate of 10kg/ha.

Perennial ryegrass overseeded into a fescue ley is adding ground cover and yield to the silage crop.

Perennial ryegrass overseeded into a fescue ley is adding ground cover and yield to the silage crop.

The results have been rapid and positive – with reports of much better ground coverage and silage yields doubling! Lead farmers who take part in discussion groups led by Anu and Jarkko and their colleagues, are now achieving 10t DM/ha – the best ones even more.

“Of course it’s not always easy to tell whether it is just the perennial ryegrass and white clover that are delivering these large increases in yield,” says Anu. “But since our trip to the UK there has been a great deal of interest in using other species. The farmers are believing us and having very good results.

“We have also visited other countries including Denmark, Ireland and Austria, but our first trip to the UK was the one which inspired us most.”

Thoroughly modern consultants
Anu and Jarkko are inspirational grassland experts – travelling abroad to find ideas, taking these back home and persuading farmers to put them into practice.

Anu encourages farmers to measure their grass crops.

Anu encourages farmers to measure their grass crops.

They are working with the industry to make new things happen, and have built up an impressive network of producer groups for technical discussion and benchmarking.

The farmers I met clearly respect and appreciate what they are doing for them. Underlying all the talking there appears to be a huge element of laughter and fun!

Jarkko (left) and Anu discuss grass seed mixtures with discussion group member Mika Kavander who farms in the west of Finland.

Jarkko (left) and Anu discuss grass seed mixtures with discussion group member Mika Kavander who farms in the west of Finland.

Anu and Jarkko are also using social media to the full to keep in touch with their farmers – active on Facebook, WhatsApp, blogs and twitter. Farmers often post photos of their crops as they walk them and ask questions – which Anu and Jarkko answer then and there without having to travel to the farm. They offer a very efficient, resourceful and modern consultancy service.

Postscript
Anu and Jarkko were amazing hosts on my week-long tour of southern Finland – not only taking me to see top class dairy, beef and sheep farmers – but also introducing me to the delights of potato bread, swimming in ice-cold lakes after ‘sauna’ (there is one for every two people in Finland) and ballroom dancing under the midnight sun. Thank you!
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