From Maseru To Rome Via London, Edinburgh & Paris

William Davies and the Grassland Research Institute

This photograph was taken in 1954 at Willliam Davies' Retirement party.

The work of this Institute is best described in the words of the Director himself, who said:

"Our investigations are centred upon the grass-legume sward; its development, botanical characteristics, management and use. We have been concerned with the problems of production, many of which have still to be solved; for example, unthriftiness in lucerne and the need for more and better winter grass, to name but two. For many years particular emphasis has been placed on extending the effective grazing season. We have shown the way to close the summer gap but are still intent upon reducing the winter gap in grass production. In recent years a large part of our energies had been directed towards the solution of problems of grassland utilisation related to both animal production and crop potential.

The work of the Institute is primarily, but by no means entirely, agronomic and, as regards new findings that can be applied to the farms of Britain, it is the agronomist who must contrive to interpret the variety of data available to him from both his own work and that of his colleagues. It is not enough, however, to have the team consisting only of agronomists and biologists. To make the most effective use of our facilities in the field we must interest workers in other departments of science, such as chemistry, biochemistry, physics, mathematics, zoology, botany or physiology. Looked at with agronomic eyes these fellow workers provide as it were service departments, producing new evidence for the agronomist and often performing a direct service (as for example routine chemical analysis of herbage) which provides the agronomist with an important assessment of quality.

The technical activities of the Institute are at present conveniently organised into five distinct departments and a number of smaller units, some of which are strongly connected with one department or another, while others are less closely knit. The latter applies in particular to units which may serve more than one department, such as the statistical unit.

Herbage Agronomy.

Various herbage plants and combinations ofthese are studied as crops. Herbage agronomy provides a primary sieve in the examination ofnew material, or of fresh techniques in the treatment of leys and old pasture. Yield and quality of various pasture plants are examined and particular attention is paid to the harvest of specific times of year, for example, autumn, winter, early spring and in the dry weather after midsummer.

Animal Agronomy.

In animal agronomy the attributes of grassland are measured in terms of animal performance such as changes in live-weight and body proportions, and quantity and quality of meat produced. The work concerned embraces that of beef cattle, ewes and lambs, and poultry. Much of the earlier work was designed to use the animal for measuring grassland output but while this phase of the work still continues we now pay an increasing amount of attention to the animal and particularly to the young animal. In many experiments with sheep the study begins at pregnancy.

Ley Agronomy.

Important researches are in progress to examine the role of the grass-legume ley in relation to the underlying soil, and its effects on crop potential, studies of root mass, root quality, soil condition (aggregation, porosity, etc.) and on the microbiology of the rhizosphere and root are included. At Hurley we are fortunate in working with soils acknowledged to be at a very low ebb of fertility. We are, therefore, able to trace both sward and soil development through the processes of improvement and of raising the crop potential. Before 1949, at Hurley, the general level of cereal yield (chiefly barley) was of the order of 10-15 cwt. per acre. We are already beginning to accustom ourselves to wheat yields in excess of 40 cwt. per acre at the Institute, and are disappointed if cereal yields are below 30 cwt. per acre. This in broad outline is what the ley has accomplished at Hurley in the seven years we have been here. However, the end point - the uplift of crop potential - is hardly likely to be in sight yet, and this makes work in the sphere of ley agronomy all the more absorbing.

Biochemistry and Animal Nutrition.

This department is concerned with basic researches into the chemistry of herbage plants as well as their precise role in nutrition of the ruminant and other farm animals. The protein and carbohydrate fractions of herbages are being examined and so also are the mineral constituents. Chromatographic and Ultracentrifuge techniques are being employed in these examinations.

Studies in digestibility form an important part ofthe work in animal nutrition and, despite their limitations, these data give a practical measure of the feeding value of herbage. Emphasis in these studies is being made on the development and application of techniques for estimating the quantity and quality of herbage intake by grazing stock.

The analytical laboratory carries out routine determinations on large numbers of samples collected from the field experiments. New methods of analyses are always being sought.

Plant Physiology.

Problems in plant physiology that arise directly from field work are tackled with the object of applying the results back to the field experiments. Studies are in progress on growth and development in relation to levels of nutrition and other factors of the environment. Physiological studies of seed production require, among other things, the study ofthe effect of day-length on the species under investigation. Studies of the growth and function of roots in different herbage plants form part of the work.


The activities of micro-organisms in grassland soils are studied. In particular, a detailed study is being made into the breakdown by these organisms of grass leys incorporated in the soil by ploughing. At the same time the unit deals with special problems arising from the work of other departments; for example, following the occurrence of unthriftiness in certain areas of newly sown lucerne at Hurley, investigations are being started into the establishment and growth of lucerne root-nodule bacteria.

Extra-Mural Experiments.

The Institute collaborates with the National Agricultural Advisory Service in conducting grassland experiments on private farms, and on Experimental Husbandry Farms. There are certain investigations in which the need is felt for supplementary evidence under a variety of practical conditions. The co-operation of farmers and advisory officers helps to provide that evidence. Present extramural experiments are concentrated on four problems;
(a) providing and using winter grass, (b) autumn management and manuring of pasture for early bite, (c) assessing the phosphate and potash requirements of grassland, (d) assessing the effects of high levels of nitrogenous manuring. Closely related experiments are in process at the Institute. The contrast made with the Grassland Officers of the Advisory Service in this and other connections is of great value to the work of the Institute.


This unit has an advisory as well as a research function. It advises on the design, execution and analysis of experiments. It assists in the interpretation of data and gives advice on statistical problems. It also provides a computing service, thereby acting as a service agency.

The experience so gained provides the statistician with a picture of the needs of the agronomist. This enables him to plan basic research of a statistical and mathematical nature in connection with the problems with which the field worker has to deal".

From Maseru To Rome Via London, Edinburgh & Paris Article

Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV and Film

by Stephen