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Scots Timothy on the Carse of Stirling

26 September 2023

This article is produced as a part of the FAS Crops & Soils Bulletin. Subscribe now to receive the full report in your inbox monthly.

The ‘Scots Timothy’ grass is a variety of Timothy (Phleum pratense L.) also called ‘common’ or  ‘meadow cat’s tail’. It has been farmed commercially since the 1880’s on the Carse of Stirling and Carse of Gowrie and continues to be cultivated here today, albeit on a much smaller scale. The variety was grown predominately as a monoculture crop for hay to be fed to livestock but has also been included in a range of other forage mixes. A prime market was for horse feed as it was particularly suitable for them. In the days of the railways, it was often transported far and wide as far as Newmarket for the horses. The variety is one of the oldest varieties still included in the Scottish Recommended List (RL) for grass and clover varieties for 2022-2023 and has been included since 1973. Its relative success is due to its agronomical properties and its persistence in the Scottish climate. It is not however on the UK national recommended list. 

The Scots Timothy differs from other Timothy cultivars and standard breeds and has become a landrace. The variety is threatened with extinction, as was historically the case in the late 1940’s. Nevertheless, the variety gained certification then and still is the only certified landrace in Scotland. Despite this, its cultivation has continued to decline with just a handful of breeders left. The hay crops found on the carse of Stirling command a premium price, due to the limited supply of high-quality seed. There are a few recognised brands and family names who have been consistent year on year in making a success of this crop. They have long term business with returning customers from race yards, pet food and livestock enterprises which has meant that the crop has always been in demand due to its quality and consistency. Here on the carse of Stirling, the climate is warm and wet with 1300 millimetres average annual rainfall on the carse to the west of Stirling. This decreases, to 1000 millimetres per annum on the carse to the east where the climate becomes warm and moderately dry.  

The Scots Timothy grass is well adapted to the heavy Scottish soils with wetter climatic conditions and for persistency, which appears to be better than more modern varieties. Scots Timothy grass leys are maintained for about 8 years and used principally for hay and often followed by 3 or 4 years of grain. There are some permanent crops which have been in for longer than 20 years. Scots Timothy is identified by its tall smooth stems and hairless leaves; the crop can grow upwards of 120cm. It has broad leaves and a tall ligule with an iconic densely packed flattened spikelet and examination of the root shows a bulbous swelling at the base of the plant (this is where the plant stores its energy reserves). Scots Timothy is a resilient crop and can cope well in short flood or drought conditions, it prefers growing in cut or grazed paddocks and other disturbed habitats.  

hay

Scots Timothy is a relatively hungry crop and would receive around 100 to 120 kg/ha of Nitrogen (N) as early spring application if within a ryegrass and clover dominated mixture . However, for Scots Timohty if it was being grown as a pure stand between 80 and 100 kg/haN would be sufficient. There is potential for crop to grow 12tDM/ha (4.85tDM/ac). More fertiliser advice for grass crops can be found here or see your local FACTS qualified consultant. 

Scots Timothy has been raised as a landrace for agronomic reasons that include better adaptation to the local environment, lower fertiliser requirements, and greater persistency. Grown on the carse which is a soil type famous for its high clay and silt content, making it rich in minerals and very fertile due to its low-lying location and geographical history. The land can only be worked over a narrow moisture range without unacceptable structural damage; plasticity, when wet and hard clods when dry impose a requirement for very careful management. This combined with the central western Scotland climate makes it an ideal location for growing Scot Timothy. For these reasons traditionally, a highly specialised crop rotation has been followed on the Stirling carse lands. Scots Timothy is a perfect choice here for as it has been bred to thrive in this wetter environment.  

Making hay from the variety can be difficult on the carse with limited weather windows for hay making and any wet conditions can pose risks of compaction. Careful soil management and timeliness of cultivations are essential. Wetness can delay seeding and in the resulting shortened growing seasons. Weather conditions at harvest are frequently difficult and their effect increases as crop areas on any farm become greater.  

There may still be a future for growing the seed supply of Scots Timothy strains depending on market interest, but significant investment is needed. One should consider Scots Timothy in their rotation if looking for a resilient and productive longer-term hay in a wetter regions of the country.  

Jack Munro, SAC Consulting

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