AgriSearch has announced investment of over £300,000 in research on the feasibility and practicalities of producing silage without the use of manufactured nitrogen (N) fertiliser.

The on-farm research project called “ZeroNsile” will focus primarily on red clover swards, with farmers establishing new red clover-based swards over the coming season. 

Twelve farmers from the Beacon Farm Network and GrassCheck programmes have been selected from right across Northern Ireland for this project, according to AgriSearch.


Farmers involved in the red clover element of ZeroNsile recently met to be briefed on the project by Dr. David Patterson of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), and general manager at AgriSearch, Jason Rankin.

Silage yields and quality on these red clover-based swards will be assessed over the next four years and compared to conventional grass swards on the same farms. 

Soil carbon measurements will also be taken at the beginning and end of the study and compared with the control fields, AgriSearch said.

Back L-R: Chris Hamilton; Barry McCullough; David Clarke; Jonathan Blair; Roy Mayers; David Patterson; Jason Rankin. Front L-R: Douglas McKenzie; David Thompson; Stephen Maguire; Francis McDonnell; Paraic McNeill; Andrew Crawford. Not pictured: Hugh Harbison

There is also a smaller Lucerne component in the study which will investigate the feasibility of growing and utilising Lucerne on four farms in Co. Down. 

The AFBI will provide scientific and technical support to the project, according to AgriSearch.


Announcing the investment today (Monday, February 6), Rankin said: Research into lowering the use of artificial nitrogen has been identified as a top priority by our advisory committees. 

“Not only does this offer the potential for farmers to save money on the purchase of fertiliser, but it also helps to lower carbon emissions. 

“Fertiliser use accounted for around 20% of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions across our Beacon Farm Network.

“Previous AgriSearch funded research at AFBI, Hillsborough showed that red clover has the potential to grow high yields of protein-rich forage whilst only using cattle slurry as fertiliser. 

“However, there is little experience of growing and utilising red clover on commercial farms, particularly in the west of the province.”

Rankin believes the new project will help give farmers across Northern Ireland an understanding of the potential and suitability of red clover for their farming systems.