When forage costs equate to nearly 70% of winter diets, careful cost consideration is required as livestock producers get to grips with decoupled payments.

Latest figures released by the Maize Growers Association show producers should remember that subsidy will now be paid regardless of the crop grown and as a result, the economics of what were in effect subsidised forages have changed considerably, says John Morgan.

“Post introduction of the single farm payment costs for a tonne of useable dry matter are virtually identical for grass silage, maize and whole-crop.”

The advantage that whole-crop and, to a lesser extent maize, grown on eligible ground had in the past as a result of Area Aid Payments, has gone, he explains.

“Whole-crop cereals with area aid have previously been considered cheap forage to produce, costing 34/t dry matter, but with decoupled payments that cost will rise by 21/t DM.”

And compared to the cost a used tonne of grazed grass – at 32/t – that is a significant increase, he adds.

With these figures in mind, Mr Morgan advises producers where possible that the efficient use of grazed grass should be encouraged and that livestock enterprises should calculate the cost of the various conserved forages available to them.

“But although grass is relatively cheap to produce and costs for collecting and removing slurry are low compared to forage, it does have a lower DM yield at 8t/ha, compared with 11t/ha and 10.2t/ha for maize and whole-crop respectively,” he highlights.

In an attempt to keep costs as low as possible, conserved forage rations should focus on the farms cheapest forage, as well as what is best suited to stock, reckons Mr Morgan.

“Agronomy efforts should also be focused on lowering costs a tonne of used dry matter, either by increasing crop yields or lowering growing costs.

“For all forages, costs a tonne of useable DM will reduce as crop yields increase,” he adds.

chrissie.lawrence@rbi.co.uk