Grass Productivity is the brainchild of Wes Maree whose biography follows:
My love of nature and agriculture started during my boyhood on my uncle’s remote 22,000ha cattle farm in the Transkei, South Africa, where I spent most of my school holidays. This led me to continue my senior schooling at Weston Agricultural College in Mooi River, Natal. The college consists of a 3000 ha mixed farming enterprise worked by the 85 boys of the school. The divisions are dairy, pigs, beef, poultry, blacksmith/carpentry, arable, grassland pastures and general farming activities. The dairy section involved the management of 120 Ayrshire cows the juniors milked by hand and seniors used milking machines. Some milk used for our hostel, some skimmed, and from the cream we made butter for our own use while the balance sold and added to the college income.
Ploughing, harvesting and gathering with implements drawn by Afrikaner oxen. The grassland management system provided all-year grazing, supplemented with hay and silage during the harsh winter months, for the dairy and beef herds. I received a bursary to study through the Agriculture Technical Services, the 4-year National Agricultural Diploma in Pretoria. During term holidays I would return to Natal and work under the Regional Agricultural Extension Office. The region ranged from the sugar cane and fruit farmers on the coast, to the dairy farmers in the midlands up to the beef farmers in the west against the Drakensburg Mountains. The advisory service included farm planning, surveying, crop planting, fertilization, grassland management, animal and field husbandry, a holistic approach.
After graduation I worked for a number of years as advisor for the service, then joined Pfizer Veterinary as consultant to stock farmers on animal health. I later purchased a bushvelt farm in the western Transvaal and installed the infrastructure, fencing for rational grazing, a spray race, drilled and fitted a borehole to provide drinking water for the Brahman beef herd.
I relocated to the United Kingdom in 2001 where I successfully completed the British Royal Horticultural Society diploma and continue to assist farmers establish Grass productivity rational cell grazing principles. More recently I advised sheep farmers in France and Spain.
I had a flock of Wiltshire horn cross Berrichon du Cher ewes managed on Mob Cell Grazing Grassproductivity principles. Their grass requirement of kgDM/per day plus 15% was calculated and rationed per cell controlled by electric fencing, aiming to enter and exit at a pre-determined yield (approximate height 5cm). The exit height is very important to ensure that sufficient grass stem is left to make full use of the FREE SOLAR ENERGY through photosynthesis where the converting the nutrients from the root zone into regrowth takes place. Grazing below this height depletes the growth hormones in the base of the stem and the nutrients in the root zone. The flock moved on a 24 hour basis and supplied a High vitamin and mineral LicBloc ad-lib.
Knowledge based careful planning and execution will result in increased productive, long-term sustainable, profitable grassland farming. This might sound labour-intensive, but very rewarding to obtain a doubling in the grass productivity, greatly reducing internal parasites, easier to manage flock, and improving variety and quality of both the grass sward and soil biology.
Grassproductivity.com principles are simple and straightforward to apply. As the flock is moved to the next fresh clean cell one can see how they enjoy the fresh grass each day. A consideration when reseeding may be required, is after rain and when the soil surface is damp, the flock is allowed to graze for a few hours to remove some of the leaf area and then the area is hand broadcast with a herbal seed mix which is tramped in. The mix could be made up of perennial ryegrass, cocksfoot, timothy, meadow fescue, tall fescue, five varieties of white clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, sainfoin, chicory, burnet, yarrow and plantain. One may consider spreading a clover mix of seed on top of the Licbloc on a daily basis to see if this produces results. Sounds feasible to me, if anyone out there has done this, I would value your feedback. This avoids ploughing and harrowing that grinds, crushes and destroys the essential earthworms and other micro-organisms that may be present.
Due to the compaction and water logging that has occurred over the years, the soils have become anaerobic, disrupting the FREE SOLAR ENERGY cycle, In Block One, a sward lifter was used to reduce this problem and create free draining, aeration and improvement of soil biology. In future, this will be followed by regular soil slitting. In spite of the present poor ground conditions, and by continuing to apply the strict grassproductivity.com principles the aim is to surpass the Grass Check average growth figure and reduce the present recovery period from 93 days to 35 days over the same period. However, we must be aware that the recovery period during the year varies greatly, from as low as 23 days in spring to early summer, while in the late winter months it could be in the region of 105 to120 days, depending on climatic and soil conditions
There seems to be the continual call for ploughing and reseeding to improve grassproductivity.
Why plough up existing pastures to improve them? Ploughing and reseeding does not solve the problem. What caused them to degenerate in the first place?
Poor management cause rapid deterioration of pastures.
There is no point in ploughing: it crushes, grinds, and destroys valuable soil structure and the indispensable soil micro-organisms plus the huge expense of reseeding to re-establish the new pasture. The essential first step is to understand the present pasture management system that caused the degeneration. The grassland management has to be improved to prevent this deterioration from ever happening again, and the grassproductivity.com principles provide these valuable guidelines.
A hole 200mmx200mmx200mm was dug and on careful inspection found the worm count to be 125kg/ha which is proof of the soil biology being in poor condition. By applying grassproductivity.com principles I expect the worm count to start moving up towards 1000kg/ha as the health and soil biology improves. I believe that the soil organisms necessary to solubilise the mineral nutrients out and put back into a plant available form have been lacking. The bacteria and fungi do the solubilisation, and the protozoa, nematodes, micro arthropods and earthworms eat the bacteria and fungi which then release the mineral nutrients into a plant available form. Therefore, to be successful grassland farmers, we must create a friendly healthy habitat in our soils, so that these micro-organisms will thrive and multiply. By sticking to the grassproductivity.com principles and applying the available flexible options in these conditions, the flock have a full quota of fresh kgDM daily and maintain their healthy condition.
With the GRASSPRODUCTIVITY principles clearly set out, it is easy to keep to the plan and reap enormous benefits at a later stage. It will be interesting to see how the flock regenerates grassland and with their hoof’s, break up the cap on the soil surface and get seed to soil contact to restore perennial native grasses. The recovered litter, thatch, dry matter is being trodden in and building further regeneration; at the same time rejuvenating the viable soil seed bank. The present grass is made up of woodier stems (80%) to leaf area (20%). the dry matter standing has a break -own value of 1, if lying flat 10, and when trampled in by the sheep’s hoof’s, the break-down value jumps to 100, due to close contact with fungi and litter. So the tramping is vital: not too little and not too much.
We are considering Mob Cell Grazing between the rows of Olive and Almond trees on an organic “Finca” in Tarragona. The normal practice is to continually disc/harrow/rotovate between the trees, which we feel destroys the soil structure, compacts the soil causing anaerobic conditions and exposes the soil surface to the extreme heat during the long summer months increasing moisture evaporation. We plan minimum shallow harrowing with a light tractor to reduce soil compaction and prepare the soil for grass seeding and control the movement of sheep with electric fencing. The trees are line irrigated 4 times a week so limited water on these sandy/loam soils will be available for pasture between the trees. The object is to improve the organic content of the soils, reduce water evaporation and create additional income. The other option being considered is planting Alfalfa as a green fertiliser, mown regularly and the cuttings left as a green mulch.
Olive farming of late, has become a very low profit sector, 0.50 centimes per kilo. On a small scale, hand combing is normally the method of harvesting which is time consuming and physically demanding. A recent purchase has been the Zanon Karbonium Evo picker, great purchase. On a 16ha Finca with 740 olive trees, of which 540 under irrigation are more productive, one energetic person can manage with the picker. providing the trees have been pruned, the suckers removed and the area between the rows clean to allow rapid moving of the nets on the ground. Once pruning has been completed, an extra person could become financially viable to keep moving two sets of nets (leap frogging) from trees to tree, remove fallen twigs from the nets and fill the crates. One needs to do the numbers as the extra person could absorb the small profit made. The present income from the 327 olive trees will not cover the cost of irrigation. As this is the second year and although the trees had been neglected for 6 years, we harvested 1215kg (from 327 trees), a bench mark for next harvest, bearing in mind that nothing was harvested the previous year. The focus in the next 4 months will be to remove all suckers from the base of the trees under irrigation, prune inside to allow sunshine into the centre, thus decreasing vegetative growth and encouraging productive growth and ensure that each tree has 6x4lt/hr. leaky valves. From April to 7th November we have 4 weekly slots of 10 hours of irrigation water divided into the 4 irrigation sectors which comes in at a controlled pressure of 4bars. Each tree should receive 62litres 4 times a week. Bearing in mind that the long summer temperatures are normally in the mid 30 degrees Celsius.
The almond trees under irrigation can be increased by 1500. During those 6 very hot years of neglect, as many as 200 trees died. Some have been removed and replaced with Maranada and Vairo varieties. During the dormant period from late November through to early January, they require a certain amount of moisture for starch to flow through the tree, as catabolic breakdown of starch to sugar prevents sap from freezing. Providing the trees were able to produce sufficient starch reserves in the late autumn months. I feel that the loss of trees is due to the above. During the summer more dead trees will be removed and replanted in the following January. A pleasant addition is 12 beehives have been placed between the olive trees.
We have had a better spread and penetration of rain this year. The almond shells have just started to split.
15th August 2017: Almond harvest completed with crop increasing from 50kg last year to 120kg this season plus 145kg from a friend’s trees (14 trees produced 145kg) with no care or irrigation.
The plan is to gradually organically grow the farming enterprise, keeping in mind; Return on Investment. We are considering renovating the Masia for B&B and plans are progressing slowly. On 15/09/17 stage one renovations completed. Top floor and kitchen below tiled, shower/toilet/wash hand basin installed, we now have a flushing toilet!! Kitchen dining area completed. Still the electrics to fit connected to the generator with solar to follow.
11/11/2017: Olive harvesting starts on Monday the 13/11/17. The last few days we have been experimenting with brining and pressing olive oil. The press needs further refinement to extract more of the oil. All our focus is now on harvesting the olives. Probably lost 2 weeks of harvesting time due to van repairs.
31/12/2017. Total olives harvested 1926kg. There could be another potential 1000kg to go. 04/01/2018 bought 50 Tendral almond one year old trees at 3.50E each.
Introducing a flock of sheep to this project is proving to be rather difficult due to bureaucracy, but we will persevere.
THIS SECTION WILL CONTINUALLY BE UPDATED.