By Shirley Macmillan

PRODUCERS WANTING to grow whole-crop this year are running out of time to get crops in the ground and leaving seed orders to the last minute could lead to disappointment.

Oliver Seeds” Rod Bonshor says livestock producers are not rushing to put whole-crop in and believes many are in danger of not getting what they want because of late ordering. “It”s best to order seed early to ensure seed treatments and avoid varieties selling out.”

Without area aid, he says, whole-crop has to be cost-effective in rations this year. Undersowing to establish a grass ley or bi-cropping with legumes will maximise output.

“But producers have to decide their priority and, when it”s to establish grass, reduce cereal seed rates by 10%. Sow the whole-crop 2in deep in one direction then broadcast and roll in grass crossways.”

Drier conditions this spring mean good seedbeds are possible and seed should be in, says agronomist Simon Draper. “If whole-crop is not drilled in the next 10 days it”s too late. Ideally spring cereals should be drilled at the end of February,” he warns.

“This is stretched to early April for whole-crop, but drilling one month late sees yield losses of 20-30% and poorer quality silage.”

Mr Draper believes it is too late to drill wheat, as it won”t tiller enough thus losing out on bulk yield. Instead, he advises sowing spring barley. “But watch out for Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus transferring from winter barley.”

The lack of area payment may deter some producers from growing whole-crop altogether, believes Shrops-based nutritionist Chris Savery of The Dairy Group. With improvements in varieties, he thinks they may opt to grow maize under plastic in marginal areas.

“Ultimately, whole-crop is grown to replicate maize and needs the same inputs as growing a grain crop. So producers need to weigh up their ability to grow it and may be better buying from an arable neighbour,” he says.

It is also difficult to get two different crops to mature together in bi-cropping, he adds.

Mr Draper agrees that unless a farm needs to grow its own organic protein or has experience of growing whole-crop, bi-cropping is best avoided. “There is always a trade-off of one crop against the other.

“Using cereals as pea stalks in bi-cropping means a seed rate of 50-80kg/ha for the cereal and 120kg/ha for the peas.”

Cornish milk producer Richard Berrett hopes his 13ha (32 acres) of bi-crop will be drilled by April 8 to feed to his 120-cow herd next winter. With three years” experience, he has moved on from just growing straight barley at Scadghill Farm, near Bude.

“This year we will try a pea, barley and vetch mix to lift proteins to 16% in silage and save on bought-in proteins,” he says.

Whole-crop will also be undersown with a medium-term Italian ryegrass cutting seed rates on the arable mix to allow grass to come through. “It competes well,” he adds.

Mr Berrett applies slurry to ground, but no bag nitrogen is used to grow the crop. “We will probably spread 30 units each of P and K though.”

shirley.macmillan@rbi.co.uk

BOX in LIVE TABLES, P1 WHOLE-CROP OPTIONS * Drill in next 10 days * Bi-cropping needs experience * Spring barley for yield * Too late for wheat