The use of leys with grazing livestock is a dying practice, but one offering potentially huge benefits to livestock and arable farms alike. Including leys within an arable system can be a solution for problems ranging from soil condition to weeds, but grass itself is – to an arable farm – of limited value. A group of six farms from across the country who have, use or are establishing leys with livestock, are coming together under DiverIMPACTS case study 2 to explore further the dynamics of using livestock to valorise leys within their own systems, consider the benefits it offers and determine how to make it work from a practical and business perspective.
What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
There are two main reasons stimulating farmers to turn to leys. First, farmers are increasingly recognising deteriorations in the condition of their soil stemming from continuous arable cropping. Alongside this there are the challenges of changing weather patterns leaving damaged soils susceptible to drought and/or waterlogging. The second issue is inputs. There are business risks associated with relying on inputs (fertilisers and/or pesticides), especially considering the increasing emergence of weeds like blackgrass that are resistant to herbicide treatments.
How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
Leys may offer a way to reduce inputs – by providing soil fertilisation and tackling weeds – and to improve soil condition, but they also represent time lost from arable cropping. Using the ley to keep livestock, effectively getting a ‘crop’ from the ley years too, offers a way to make leys more attractive to arable farmers and may offer additional benefits to a stockless ley.
Six farmers already using leys with livestock will form a core case study group, each exploring select areas of leys and livestock within their farm system over the next three years. The six farmers represent a wide range of farming types, from mixed farms to livestock or arable specialists, but all feature leys as part of their rotation. The six will meet regularly over the course of the project to learn from one another through field visits and workshops, as well as individually exploring the benefits of leys using some basic measurements and trials on their own farms.
The six farms will also reach out and engage with other farms and innovators outside the group. This will expand their learning, identify new inspirations and also offer an opportunity for them to act as examples to other farmers potentially interested in the practice.
Leys as service crops have the potential to improve the health of soils and reduce the need for inputs, improving the global sustainability of the farming systems. Using livestock to valorise these leys may provide a way to add further benefit.
These service crops would support the improvement of soils on farms, offering benefits into the arable rotation. However, they would also support the direct generation of income through facilitating the production of livestock, through provision of grazing, for example.
Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals
The case study will focus on ways to diversify cropping systems by incorporating leys with livestock for sustainability and soil fertility and look at opportunities and challenges in ensuring profitability of both the arable and livestock aspects of the rotations.
- Samantha Mullender, ORC, case study leader