This year has been one of the most challenging for many producers in terms of getting the most out of inputs, but whether it’s silage or soil, knowing what you’ve got and how to use it is critical to farm productivity.

Soil is arguably the most important resource on the farm and effective soil management can make a wealth of difference to grassland productivity. Without good soil little can be grown and ensuring soils are balanced growing mediums is essential.

Soils should be well aerated to ensure optimum incorporation of organic matter and good root structures for both grass and clover additionally, clover content in swards should be 25-30% of the total sward to aid reductions in artificial fertiliser use.

Second on the list of valuable resources needing careful management is silage, with many farms having variable crop quality and quantity after a difficult season. Making the most of conserved crops means knowing what you’ve got in the clamp and that means having it analysed.

For both soil and silage the Dairy Event and Livestock Show is the perfect place to ask questions with clinics offering both soil and silage analysis free of charge to farmers attending the event.

The silage clinic

Whether or not silage analysis is on the “to do” list this season, bring along a sample to the event’s Silage Clinic organised in association with Sciantec Analytical Services, says Chris Savery, of The Dairy Group.

“Forage will be a big part of your herd’s winter diet and if that diet is going to be cost-effective, then you need feed back to determine its nutritional value and fermentation quality.” Get hold of those values, and you’ll be able to:

  • Understand the overall success of the conservation
  • Make a comparison with standard and expected values
  • Determine values on which to plan initial diets
  • Find out particular shortfalls which need to be overcome and the likely supplementation required.

“However, good or bad the season has been, there will be a range in silage quality. Maturity can be anticipated from the date of cutting, and while this dictates the analysis to a large extent, other “ensiling factors” can have a big influence.

“Analyses can always have shortfalls when it comes to predicting cows’ response to a particular forage. But so long as carefully sampled, analysis will give a valuable starting point that should be regularly repeated. Poor knowledge of the DM % will mean an inaccurate diet is fed. Figures are also given for Intake Potential (IP) and Potential Acid Load (PAL) both are useful for establishing whether you are on the right track with silage to be able to perform as you would wish.”

The soil surgery

Soil is arguably the most valuable natural resource on a farm, according to Jo Scamell, agricultural nutritionist of Ground Level Nutrition, who will be managing the popular Soil Surgery, organised in association with Kingshay Farming Trust, to which farmers are invited to bring along a sample of established sward for assessment.

“Soaring costs have led livestock farmers to reconsider their fertiliser inputs and what can actually be achieved from the soil by improving its condition,” she says. “Soil function can be increased by improving the efficiency of its nutrient cycle. This can be achieved through better physical structure, correct chemical and mineral balance, and enhanced biological activity.

“The Soil Surgery will offer a practical soil evaluation with a focus on good physical soil structure – discussing issues such as soil compaction alleviation, microbial and earthworm activity assessment and efficient use of valuable fertiliser and natural manure inputs. We aim to help individual farmers identify the key areas of farm management and fertiliser selection to maximise soil efficiency.”