North Yorkshire farmers trial grass that could be 'game changer' as temperatures rise

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Farmers are trialling an underused grass species in the hope it will help cut their costs and help the environment.

The 10 farmers from the North York Moors and the Howardian Hills are taking part in a three-year trial using cocksfoot grass fields for grazing and comparing them to the more commercial ryegrass fields.

Phillip Snowdon, a farmer in the North York Moors, told ITV News that in recent years, with increasingly dry conditions, his ryegrass has struggled to survive and has needed a lot of fertiliser and attention to yield, but he said he thinks the cocksfoot could be a “game changer”.

Not only does the species have the potential of cutting his costs on fertiliser, but due to its deeper root system, it could help prevent flooding too.

The cocksfoot grass is being trialled for grazing. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

He said: “Obviously not putting a lot of fertiliser on, that’s a huge cost to us as farmers. The last few years we’ve seen the price go through the roof so if we don’t have to put as much on or even any on, it’s going to be a huge benefit to us and obviously, by opening up the soil structure further down, we can get more water infiltration.

"If we can absorb more water into the soil here, we’re going to stop it running down into the rivers and stop flooding.”

During the trial, data will be collected from the grass and the soil beneath to measure the amounts of carbon captured by the deep root system.

This data will be analysed by Leeds University scientists and compared with data collected from the ryegrass fields. The farmers predict more carbon will be captured by the cocksfoot, making it a more desirable grass species to graze in order to help the environment.

Project lead farmer, Fraser Hugill said: “If we can capture more carbon into our soils, that’s good for us, because it’ll make our soils more robust, we can grow more crops, grass etc.

"It’s also good for the wider society even if it’s just a small part of the solution to climate change.”

The trial will take three years. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Since losing their EU subsidies due to Brexit, supporters of the trial say the farmers have no choice, but to be innovative in how they adapt their farming systems. 

Rebecca Thompson, from the North York Moors National Park, who are one of the funding partners of the trial, said: “Farmers are facing a really difficult time so if this is going to be delivering financially for farmers, it doesn’t have to be reseeded so often, it doesn’t need the same inputs of artificial fertilisers, if it’s improving soil quality, if it’s holding back water, if it’s doing all of these things, then it’s a no brainer really that farmers look to take this on, providing the evidence is there that supports what we’re hoping to find from this trial.”

The trial is supported with funding from the Oglesby Charitable Trust and Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) via the North York Moors National Park and Howardian Hills AONB.

The trial will take three years, but if cocksfoot proves a success, it could be rolled out to farmers across the country.

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