In 2019, five farmers working with Wij.land began experimenting with herb-rich grasslands. A rich diversity of herbs can lead to more vitamins and minerals for the cow, a better taste of meat and milk, a healthier field that is more resilient against extreme weather conditions such as drought, and the stimulation of biodiversity. An additional advantage is that herb-rich grasslands are increasingly sought after by the dairy industry, therefore counting towards a premium for the milk.
Different ways and mixtures to sow
On peat soil, you often have to plant seeds instead of simply spreading them across a field. And that can be quite a challenge! So with the help of Jan-Paul Wagenaar from the Louis Bolk Institute, we examined the best mixtures and sowing methods. From different ways of planting, seeding and sowing, to testing different machines and planting in different seasons.
We began experiments specifically for each farm in order to best meet the objectives of the farmer. For example, salad buffets – a mix of herbs, clovers and grasses – were sown with the aim of maintaining good milk production and better cow health. We developed a meadow bird mixture, containing more flowers to attracts many insects. There is also a herb tea mixture which farmers can sow in collaboration with Ptthee – a Dutch tea company.
Herb-rich grasslands are not new (traditionally all meadows were herbaceous), but there is still a lot we don’t know. For example, what the effect is on emissions? A recent study shows that plantain on peatland can lead to lower nitrous oxide emissions (a very strong greenhouse gas). But we are still discovering how sowing herb-rich grasslands can best help a farmer.
“Many herbs take deep roots, which brings groundwater to the surface. The soil is thus better watered and perhaps this could also mean less peat oxidation, and thus less soil subsidence”? – Monique van der Laan
More farmers join the experiment
Since last year, the group experimenting with herb-rich grasslands has grown to 21 farmers. This was achieved through sharing knowledge and running workshops. Now, this group of farmers have sown herbs on one hundred hectares; the area of 200 football fields!
First results: happy cows, but also disappointment
The motivation and enthusiasm to experiment has been great, but there are also disappointments. For example, sowing in the spring (of 2019) was less successful than the autumn due to drought. It also turned out to be difficult to establish herbs in very dense grass sods. Finally, the meadow bird mixture did not work well, and there is clearly work needed to develop this mix. But fortunately there have many positive experiences. And the farmers all noticed that the cows love the diversity of herbs.
“The cows love it. They even eat the flowering herbs and young thistles. I really didn’t expect that!” – farmer from Weesp
All in all, there is enough satisfaction and motivation from this first group to continue the experiment.
Based on the lessons learned with the first group, we adapted the pilot on several points:
- To take more care choosing the right moment of sowing (e.g. in autumn, just before the rain)
- To look in advance at the soil condition and PH value. If these are not yet favourable enough for the herbs, we must first employ a soil treatment to create the right conditions
- It is importance to talk with the participants the management, including spraying fertiliser and letting the herbs bloom.
We are currently working all the advice and lessons learnt into a handbook on developing herb-rich grasslands.
Sponsor herb-rich grasslands
Would you like to see more herb-rich grasslands? And do you want to contribute to this project? For 10,- euro you can sponsor 250m2 of herb-rich grassland. Find out more on our donation page.
This project is made possible by our partner Contribute Foundation.