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Improved persistence of red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) increases the protein supplied by red clover/grass swards grown over four harvest years

Marshall, A.H., Collins, R.P., Vale, J., Lowe, M.
European journal of agronomy 2017 v.89 pp. 38-45
Lolium perenne, Trifolium pratense, diploidy, dry matter accumulation, forage, forage legumes, grasslands, grazing, hybrids, livestock, ruminants, sward, United Kingdom
UK livestock agriculture can significantly reduce its protein imports by increasing the amount of forage based protein grown on-farm. Forage legumes such as red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) produce high dry matter yields of quality forage but currently available varieties lack persistence, particularly under grazing. To assess the impact of red clover persistence on protein yield, diploid red clover populations selected for improved persistence were compared with a range of commercially available varieties. All populations were grown over four harvest years in mixed swards with either perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) or perennial plus hybrid ryegrass (L. boucheanum Kunth). Red clover and total sward dry matter (DM) herbage yields were measured in Years 1–4, red clover plant survival in Years 3 and 4 and herbage protein (CP) yield and concentration in Years 2 and 4. In general, red clover DM yield in year 4 (3.4tha−1) was lower than in year 1 (13.9tha−1) but the red clover populations differed in the extent of this decline. Differences in the persistence of the red clover populations in terms of plant survival and yield were reflected in the contribution of red clover to the total sward yield in Year 4, which ranged from 61% for the highest yielding population, AberClaret, to 11% in the lowest yielding, Vivi. Increased red clover DM yield was reflected in a greater CP yield (protein weight per unit area), which ranged from 1.6tha−1year−1 to 2.9tha−1year−1 in Year 2 and from 1.1tha−1year−1 to 1.9tha−1year−1 in Year 4. CP concentration (protein weight per unit herbage weight) of all of the red clover populations was within a range considered suitable for ruminant production. The implication of these results for the future use of red clover in sustainable grassland systems is discussed.