3 August 2001

Forager keeps active on whole-crop silage duties

One Glos contractor gets

more use from his

self-propelled forager by

offering a whole-crop

silage-making service.

Geoff Ashcroft reports

Harvesting 121ha (300 acres) of whole-crop silage each summer is proving to be something of a useful niche market for Glos contractor Adrian Page.

"From a contractors point of view, whole-crop allows us to get better use from the forager between second and third cut grass," says Mr Page, who operates a general contracting business from Firing Close Farm, Wickwar, Wootton-under-Edge.

While the bulk of Mr Pages contracting operation revolves around silage making with 1215ha (3000 acres) of grass and 485ha (1200 acres) of maize, the firm is also involved with contract combining, big square baling, plus autumn cultivations and drilling.

"It is a useful mix which helps to keep men and machines on the go from early spring, through to late autumn," he adds.

Until recently, Mr Page reckons whole-crop has been something that many customers have fallen back on, when silage making has left the clamps with room to spare.

"It has been very much a last-minute thing, where customers have removed a few headlands with the forager to bulk up the clamp.

"But more recently whole-crop has become a viable alternative to maize silage, particularly since the price of corn fell through the floor."

As a specialised operation, the whole-crop scene fits conveniently into Mr Pages harvesting diary and helps to spread the silage making workload over a wider working window. The switch from grass to whole-crop only requires a header swap, which sees the 530hp New Holland FX58s grass pick-up changed for a 4.5m wide, six-row folding Kemper Champion 345 header.

"The Kemper is also used on maize, so we dont need three different headers for three silage crops," he says.

Transport issues

After eight years of providing a whole-crop service, Mr Page acknowledges that a dedicated whole-crop header would provide a bit more output, but transport issues dilute the advantages such a header would bring, particularly when moving through the narrow lanes around Wootton-under-Edge.

As a result, output is a leisurely 25ha/day (60 acres/day) when compared to 52ha (130 acres) in grass and 28ha in maize (70 acres).

"Many customers still use us to remove the headlands from their fields, just to make combining a simpler job, and when youre working in small fields, we find ourselves doing a lot of running about," he adds. "It obviously has quite an impact on our output."

The upside of the job – like maize – means that mowing and raking equipment are not required. A direct cut operation, whole-crop silage is simply chopped, hauled and clamped.

The key to making successful whole-crop silage, according to Mr Page, is starting with sharp blades and a good shear bar, then taking the trouble to re-sharpen every hour. An application of a biological innocculant assists with fermentation and helps to prevent anaerobic spoilage.

"It is a simple process, but one that is hard on the forager," he says. "We precision chop whole crop to about 8mm in length, and with the crop only about 15-20 days away from being combined, it can be very tough to chop."

"Grains should err on the side of being greener, rather than ripe – even at such a stage, the straw can be quite dry," he adds. "And if the crop is too dry, it just wont consolidate properly in the clamp."

Supporting the FX58 is a fleet of three 12 tonne Wootton trailers, with each load pushed away in three passes at the clamp, by a JCB 412S Farm Master.

"Since increasing forager power this year – from 450hp to 530hp – weve noticed that more power on the clamp would come in handy," he adds. &#42