By Dr Deric Charlton
|Dr Deric Charlton|
From article published in Countrywide 01-11-2006
While recently sorting and culling our long-term accumulated treasures, I came across an old book of lecture notes from the agronomy course I took while at Kings College of Durham University in the late 1950s.
I had kept it all those years because it reminded me why I chose pastures as the basis of my career. Welsh agronomist Professor Martin Jones had studied how farmers managed their pastures and had worked out how and why the pastures grew. This enabled him to develop different pastures from one containing a mix of ryegrass, cocksfoot, red clover, white clover and weeds in a famous trial at Jealott’s Hill, ICI’s research farm in England.
Merely by altering the grazing management, Martin Jones had different species dominating the sward – clover, ryegrass, cocksfoot, browntop and weeds. He taught us to understand just how the different pasture plants grow, and by knowing these facts, we can create the right pasture for the particular livestock type.
Martin Jones also taught us that by removing the flowering head just as it elongates and emerges in spring, we can develop a leafy regrowth, vastly improving the pasture feed quality compared with that of a stemmy pasture. Indeed, he showed us a wheat plant in the trial grounds he ran, which was six years old and still growing well.
By removing the developing seed head each time it grew during spring, he made this annual grass into a perennial – something we now appreciate on farms in the form of more persistent Italian ryegrasses or some fodder cereals.
It is these basics that farmers need to remember when planning their pasture feed supply, so that they can run a more efficient business. Martin Jones found that simple rules operate in pasture growth, and that farmers usually farm pastures that are less than ten years old when pastures undergo most of their changes – thereafter they remain relatively stable.
Maybe there’s a lesson to be taken from this when we are trying to farm profitably yet sustainably. A few years ago I visited a dairy farm where once-a-day milking was the norm, and yet the farmer had not renewed any of his pastures for decades. They were dominated by ryegrass and clover and this past season the farm had produced 1074kg milksolids/ha – well ahead of the district average.
So the lesson seems to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
William Davis - the Welsh Plant Breeding Station:
William Davis was among the successful early agronomists, who following assignments in New Zealand, Australia and the Falkland Islands, returned to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station as Head of Grassland Agronomy between 1933 and 1940 and succeeded Sir George Stapledon in 1945 as director of the Grassland Improvement Station near Stratford-upon-Avon.
Doctorate Examination – a memory
While I was working on my doctorate at the West of Scotland Agricultural College in the 1960s, Martin Jones was external examiner for my colleague and friend of the late Dr John Frame for his doctorate. John had a Scottish education and did National Service with the RAF in Egypt, and then undertook a masterate at Massey University in Palmerston North during the late 1950s, looking at chou mollier (kale) and enjoying rugby.
He selected Martin Jones as his external examiner, and Martin duly came to Auchincruive one day for the oral examination. John told me afterwards that Martin did all the talking during some six hours of examination and hardly asked any questions! When I had my oral exam with Prof PT Thomas, director of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station at Aberystwyth, I had only 30 minutes of discussion with him, my Head of Department David Martin and supervisor Prof Jim Hall, another Kings graduate and former staff member! This amazed John Frame after his ordeal, but then that was Martin Jones and his great enthusiasm for pasture management.
MJ the lawn mower
While at Kings College, Prof Martin Jones told us one day that when he went home for lunch he always mowed his lawn too! Of course this was only during the Tyneside growing season, which would be from late April until early October.
He used an unpowered reel mower set quite high and let the clippings return to the soil. In this way he developed a dense weed-free lawn with an acidic soil underneath to encourage the browntop growth and dominance. Sadly I never managed to see the result but my wife’s uncle in Ayr did the same and had a perfect lawn! But later I found that he was on the Management Board at Bingley (the Sports Turf Research Institute) and chair of its scientific advisory committee, so he must have known what he was doing.
Working with Iorwerth
I worked with Dr Iorwerth Jones as a student at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station over the summer of 1959 and we evaluated trials at the Pwyll Pieran Research Area up on the hills. This comprised approximately 1,000 hectares that was government owned and used for research for unimproved upland grazing land. Sir George Stapledon carried out a trial called the Cahn Hill Experiment aiming to improve hill pastures with lime and fertiliser application. This research revolutionised the industry and increased primary production, even though the politicians didn’t know what do with the extra produce at the time.
Iorwerth Jones had lost a gold pen at Pwyll Pieran before we came – one that his wife had given him for a special anniversary, and he’d had to replace it before she heard about the loss. One day we stopped the Land Rover on a rough parking area made of large roundish rocks, and as I climbed out I looked down – and there was Iorwerth’s pen! He almost kissed me in delight as I handed it to him and later that week we were invited to his home for dinner and their hospitality, and enjoyed seeing their attractive young daughter played her clarsach (Gaelic harp) for us!
Martin Jones’s classic Jealott’s Hill research
At the WPBS Martin also started looking at pastures and grew a keen interest in the effect of livestock grazing on the pasture sward. A paper published jointly with Stapledon in 1927 was later ranked as a pioneer study on animal behaviour. But in 1928 Martin moved to the new Jealott’s Hill Research Area in Berkshire. A company called Nitram began this venture and ICI Ltd took over later. Here Martin undertook a classical experiment in livestock/pasture interaction that resolved many pasture management problems and showed the great value of controlled grazing. To put it basically, hard grazing encouraged clover content and lenient grazing favoured grass growth. However close grazing in early spring followed by lenient grazing in late spring/summer just resulted in strong weed growth in a mixed pasture.
MJ’s chalk line
At Kings, Martin would draw a line along the board and then vigorously demonstrate grass growth upwards (and root growth downwards) mostly without even looking at what he was drawing. In his characteristic Welsh accent he would dramatically and clearly describe aspects of pasture production and animal defoliation to ensure that his ‘agronomic gospel’ penetrated the brains of most students. I still have my lecture notes from his course and it clearly shows how and why livestock farmers should manage their temperate pastures using controlled grazing methods.
MJ’s influence abroad
During this period Martin had a profound influence on farmers as far afield as France. In Normandy he inspired dairy farmer Andre Voisin to write several books that told other farms the details of efficient and effective livestock management – rational grazing , as Voisin described it.
In recent years New Zealand farmer Harry Wier has developed very effective TechnoGrazingTM on his farm near Bulls in Rangitikei, and has developed his own fencing equipment and trained farmers in its application to greatly enhance their animal production in a sustainable manner. He also supervised and examined doctorate students, who benefitted considerably from his advice.
In his retirement Martin Jones served on several industry boards but returned to Aberystwyth and eventually died there in late 1979.