7 June 2002

Effective use of forage cuts cost

By Robert DaviesWales correspondent

ORGANIC milk producers need to cut costs to cope with the decline in milk price this year and turning to alternative forages may help.

Richard Weller, who manages the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Researchs organic herd, at Trawsgoed, Aberystwyth, says the falling milk price has concentrated producers minds on the high cost of purchased concentrates and forages. They also need to reduce reseeding charges, using leys which last longer.

"The economics of organic production have changed from the time when the organic milk price was nearly 30p/litre. I have not had a call from a producer interested in conversion for some time, while those which have are asking questions about improving efficiency. A price fall that knocks 7p/litre off returns poses many management questions."

New work on high energy forage crops and different grass and clover mixtures should help. This is being financed as part of the Welsh Assemblys Farming Connect project, which seeks to use technology and best practice to improve farm incomes.

"The energy from forage trial will determine yield and energy value of different forage crops and their role in a crop rotation. Replicated plots are being used over two growing seasons, which should iron out seasonal factors," says Mr Weller.

Alternatives on test

The alternatives being tried are whole-crop silage made from spring barley cut at three different stubble heights plus two different ratios of spring barley and peas, forage maize and fodder beet.

Mr Weller hopes the results will answer whether high energy forage crops can increase the energy value of winter fodder conserved and whether we can successfully grow maize in this marginal area. It will also show if raising the cutting height can increase the quality of whole-crop barley.

He also wants to know what energy and protein contribution a mixed cereal and pea crop can make to winter rations and the management and cost implications of introducing new crops in a high rainfall area.

"We should find out what it costs to produce a kg of metabolisable energy from the different crops."

Results will be particularly relevant for the section of IGERs organic herd relying on purchased feed. This allows a stocking rate of 1.65 cows/ha (0.7/acre) compared with 1.22 cow/ha (0.5/acre) for the section run on a self-sufficiency system.

But only 79.2% of feed is home grown, just 81% of the diet is forage and the 59 cows consume 1.4t of concentrate/head. The corresponding figures for 50 cows in the self-sufficient herd are 93.9%, 94.9% and 0.39t of concentrate/cow.

Ley composition

Mr Weller feels it is importantto consider the composition of leys used to sustain cows heavily dependent on home produced forage. Many visitors to the Trawsgoed unit have asked for more information on the suitability of different mixtures and the possibility of replacing the short term leys which make a major contribution to winter fodder conservation.

"The question is whether they can reduce the need for ploughing and the grazing time lost during establishment of new leys. Our new work will measure the output from different mixtures in relation to the yield and quality of herbage that is either grazed or conserved."

The trial will also evaluate benefits of including other grasses, such as Timothy, meadow fescue and cocksfoot, in standard perennial ryegrass/white clover mixtures. It will look at the impact of adding new high sugar grass varieties, early and late perennial ryegrass varieties, hybrid ryegrasses, red clover, grazing lucerne or herbs.

Plots sown to a standard mixture will be compared with others seeded with a mixture to which an early perennial variety has been added. The third option is a standard mix plus combinations of early perennial ryegrass, other grasses, large leaved white clover, grazing lucerne and mineral rich herbs, such as chickory and plantain.

"We already know inclusion of Timothy can increase palatability and provide a denser sward, reducing invasion by docks and other weeds. Including modern varieties of other grasses could also bring benefits." &#42

&#8226 Alternatives could suit.

&#8226 Whole-crop may be valuable.

&#8226 Which grass species?

Organic milk producers need to improve forage use to cope with the recent 7p/litre fall in milk price, says Richard Weller.