GrassCheck: Contractors reel in bumper first cut as growth spurt continues

Northern Ireland’s grass growth has been almost off the chart this week, as a combination of sunshine and light rain ramps up growth rates.

Researchers had predicted that growth rates would begin to drop back this week; however, it now appears that the growth boom is set to continue into June.

However, early warning signs suggest drying soil could become the next obstacle to the season as parts of Co. Down had dryness readings of over 200 centibars – a dryness measurement used by the Agri-Food and Biosiences Institute (AFBI).

It compares to readings of around 50 centibars in most other areas – the higher the number; the drier the soil.

Dr. Debbie McConnell explained that once soil dryness goes above 60 centibars, there is a reduction in growth.

A graphic produced by GrassCheck showing the maximum soil dryness reading recorded (in centibars) on its network on Sunday

Although there were many prolonged periods of wet weather last year, drought held back growth in some parts of the county.

She said that with soil moisture falling in eastern counties, it is likely that growth will start to be restricted in these areas.

Overall this week, growth has remained strong again, with continued good weather forecast.

This week, Co. Derry recorded the highest growth rate at 100.2kg DM/ha/day; while in Co. Armagh growth reached just 54.7kg DM/ha/day.

Similarly, almost double the amount of rain fell in the north-west, compared to the south and east of the province.

Total growth for May is expected to be above the 10-year average of 2t DM/ha.

silage contractors
Martin Contracts at work in Greyabbey, Co. Down

This week’s GrassCheck management notes advise:

  • Grass quality has fallen with many plants now entering the reproductive phase and generating seed heads;
  • Pre-mowing, topping or taking out paddocks for silage will help remove this fibrous material and ensure good quality at the next rotation.


More information on GrassCheck will be available at the AFBI Dairy Open Day on June 6.

Established in 1999, the GrassCheck project aims to provide up-to-date grass information to assist farmers with grassland management decisions.

Operated by AgriSearch and AFBI, the project monitors weekly grass growth, as well as quality. It also provides seven day, and 14-day, grass growth rate forecasts.

In 2017, the project included 35 farmers across a variety of systems spread around Northern Ireland. This year the number of farms involved increased to 50.