Fast-growing annual chicory is a win-win for farmers, livestock and the environment this season.
That's the advice from an experienced agronomist as spring sowing approaches.
Blair Cotching says one chicory in particular combines high dry matter (DM) yield with quick establishment, superb quality and climatic resilience to keep animals well-fed in summer and autumn.
Most chicory cultivars are perennial types, he explains. But 501 Chicory grows like an annual, so it can be grazed sooner.
This advantage can add up to one full grazing more than other chicory cultivars over summer.
"We've measured this dry matter yield difference in two trials, and it's significant - for example, 501 Chicory can grow 550kg dry matter per hectare more than Choice," says Cotching, who leads the pasture systems team at Barenbrug.
"Imagine what you could do with that amount of feed over 10 to 15 hectares of chicory."
Establishment costs for chicory are virtually the same no matter which cultivar is planted. But as these figures show, changing from one to another can add hundreds to the profit margin.
That's on top of the crop's nutritional, management and environmental benefits, Cotching says.
Few other home-grown or imported feeds can match it for summer quality; animals love eating it; it's low risk for facial eczema; it doesn't need insecticide sprays and because it is tap-rooted, it is more resilient and water efficient than ryegrass in summer droughts.
The deep roots of 501 Chicory also improve soil structure, mine deep soil nitrogen and pull up other minerals from the soil profile.
It is ideal for effluent blocks, for example, because it soaks up both excess nitrogen and potassium, which are then redistributed more evenly around the farm via the cows, Cotching says. Nitrate leaching research has shown cows grazing chicory excrete less nitrogen per urination event.
"Farmers in sensitive catchments like it because they it establishes well via direct drill or minimum till, and can be renewed into grass in autumn the same way.
"So they're not getting the same soil nitrogen losses as they would with full cultivation."
That's better for fragile soils, too, Cotching says.
For best results, 501 Chicory should be sown early (as soon as soil temps are 12C and rising), using treated seed at 10kg/ha, and no deeper than 1cm.
Another option is to mix it with Morrow red clover or Zulu II annual arrowleaf clover for their nitrogen-fixing ability.