The DiverseForages Project

DiverseForages Project


The DiverseForages Project is a five-year project funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club (SARIC), which is led by the University of Reading in collaboration with Duchy College, Rothamsted North Wyke, and Cotswold Seeds. The overall aim of the project is:

"To achieve acceptable yields of good quality forage for livestock production whilst having a positive and long term impact on the environment."

Grassland comprises 50 % of the total UK land area and is a crucial resource for the ruminant livestock industries within the agricultural sector. This grassland is predominantly sown with ryegrass: a high yielding species that can provide good quality forage, but is reliant upon application of sufficient nitrogen fertiliser and is susceptible to both drought and water logging. Nitrogen fertiliser is expensive and has a high carbon and nitrogen footprint. Therefore, it is important to consider whether there are viable alternatives to pure ryegrass pasture that are more environmentally friendly, resilient, and productive.

What are diverse forages?
There are many plants other than ryegrass that can be used for forage including legumes (e.g. clover) and herbs/forbs (e.g. chicory or plantain). Research has shown that grass pasture can be enhanced by the addition of legumes and herbs. Legumes capture atmospheric nitrogen as compounds that are used by the plant, replacing the need for nitrogen fertiliser, and some legume/herb species are deep rooting, improving soil structure and providing resilience to drought and flooding. In this way, mixed species work together to fulfil different ecosystem functions, potentially increasing forage yield of the whole pasture above the yield of any one species sown alone. 

DiverseForages Project graphic

Project overview
Three forage mixtures comprising six, twelve or seventeen species have been established and will be compared to fertilised perennial ryegrass at multiple research sites and farms running from 2016-20. The composition of our experimental seed mixtures is shown below. 

DiverseForages Project species


Measurements include:

• Biomass yield, forage quality, botanical composition, and soil properties in a long-term replicated trial plot study at multiple sites

• A comparison of pasture resilience under waterlogged and drought conditions assessed using trial plots

• On-farm case studies from ten demonstration farms in South and South West England

• A two-year evaluation of forage nutritional value, including measurements of digestibility, nitrogen use efficiency, methane emission mitigation potential, and growth rate of grazing cattle

• A modelling exercise to determine economic and environmental impacts of the mixtures at farm-scale.

When will preliminary results be available?
As this is a long-term project in its early stages, preliminary results are not yet available. Once sufficient data is gathered to draw conclusions, details of dissemination events, conference presentations and reports will be posted here.

The DiverseForages Project team recently held a workshop to bring together farmers and scientists to learn from each other's experiences of grazing multi-species swards. Read the report from the day here.

We have also teamed up with Innovative Farmers to assist in their new field lab "Herbal Leys for Dairy": A farmer-led project aiming to investigate best cattle grazing management techniques for multi-species swards. Visit their website here to learn more.

Download our info-poster here The DiverseForages Project

Contact details
Would you like to know more about the project?

Professor Chris Reynolds, Director of CEDAR Research, | 0118 378 4684

Dr Hannah Jones, Senior research fellow, Duchy College,

Dr Anna Thomson, Post-doctoral Research assistant, | 0118 378 8222

Key References
The Smartgrass project

The Legume LINK project

Cardinale, B.J., Wright, J.P., Cadotte, M.W., Carroll, I.T., Hector, A., Srivastava, D.S., Loreau, M. & Weis, J.J. (2007). Impacts of plant diversity on biomass production increase through time because of species complementarity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104:18123-18128.

Hammond, K.J., Humphries, D.J., Westbury, D.B., Thomson, A., Crompton, L.A., Kirton, P., Green, C. & Reynolds, C.K. (2014). The inclusion of forage mixtures in the diet of growing dairy heifers: Impacts on digestion, energy utilisation, and methane emissions. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment, 197:88-95.

Luescher, A., Mueller-Harvey, I., Soussana, J.F., Rees, R.M. & Peyraud, J.L. (2014). Potential of legume-based grassland-livestock systems in Europe: a review. Grass and Forage Science, 69:206-228.

Storkey, J., Doring, T., Baddeley, J., Collins, R., Roderick, S., Jones, H. & Watson, C. (2015). Engineering a plant community to deliver multiple ecosystem services. Ecological Applications, 25:1034-1043.

Find out about our partners

SARIC;   Rothamsted Research;   Cotswold Seeds;   Duchy College

DiverseForages Project partners

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Discuss our research

Professor Chris Reynolds

HR Excellence in Research

The University holds the European Commission's HR Excellence in Research Award. Follow the link below for more information


HR Excellence in Research

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