Species-rich hay meadows are usually managed extensively to maintain their biodiversity, with the harvested biomass traditionally being fed to ruminants for milk or meat production. The quality of the biomass is, however, variable, difficult to predict and often does not fulfil today’s requirements. This study established a field trial at two species-rich hay meadows to investigate the combined effect of fertilisation (none, phosphorus and potassium (PK), nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK)) and date of first cut (at different phenological stages) on biomass quality and quantity. In addition, the most suitable uses of the biomass were explored, including the alternatives biogas and combustion. After four years of the field trial, the stage of maturity at the time of first cut had a greater influence than extensive fertilisation on biomass quality. Dry matter yield (DMY) of the first cut was about 40%–60% of annual DMY (53.99 ± 12.51 dt ha−1
) depending on site, fertilisation and harvest time. Fertilisation had a stronger effect than harvest time on DMY and annual methane yield. In most cases, there was no significant difference in chemical composition between biomass harvested at the end of the grass-flowering stage and at the seed-ripening stage. Thus, a late cut for hay proved to be the most flexible option.
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