9 June 1995

Pioneer Wrights stuff

It is now uneconomic for producers in England to claim area aid payments on forage maize, but cereals harvested as whole-crop are eligible making them an increasingly attractive forage option. This special focus begins by detailing one pioneer growers experience with the urea-treated product. Michael Gaisford reports

ONE of the first farmers to put into commercial practice the findings from whole-crop research in the early 80s at the former Hurley

research institute was Buckinghamshire dairy farmer Colin Wright.

At 144ha (360-acre) Glebe Farm, Waddesdon, Mr Wright has been making whole-crop for his 170-cow dairy herd for eight years. He is also the project manager for a three-year £350,000 LINK whole-crop research programme that finishes at the end of this month.

Mr Wright also grows 32ha (80 acres) of forage maize for his herd, makes grass silage, and buys-in a wide mixture of straights for complete diet feeding.

The farm also supports a flock of 300 Cambridge and Cambridge halfbred ewes.

"I see a big future for whole-crop in the north of England where forage maize cannot be grown," says Mr Wright. "It does not compare with maize as a feed for dairy cows, but both are much better than indifferent grass silage."

Due to dry conditions in much of the country limiting the quantity of grass silage being made this summer, Mr Wright reckons more whole-crop will be made this year. But he warns the timing in harvesting a crop of wheat for whole-crop is crucial.

He also points out that there are two distinctly different types of whole-crop. Fermented whole-crop, sometimes called arable silage, and widely made in Denmark (see next week, June 16 issue), is made from wheat cut with a dry matter below 45%. The urea-treated whole-crop, which Mr Wright makes, is made from a wheat crop between 45% and 60% dry matter, and ideally at 55% DM.

"We usually come back from the Royal Show to make our 40 acres of whole-crop each year," he says. "At this stage of growth the dry matter of a standing wheat crop can change by 2% a day, so timing and checks on the state of the grain are vital.

"Guidelines on how to know precisely when to cut wheat for whole-crop are available from the Maize Growers Association which includes a whole-crop group and is the lead sponsor of the LINK research project."

He also points out that the quality of whole-crop forage can be adjusted by varying the cutting height of the crop to alter the ratio of grain and straw in the forage, but that when cut high, straw disposal has then to be tackled.

"Three years ago, for example, we just took the heads of a wheat crop which gave us a forage with an ME of 14.5," says Mr Wright.

"But we normally take most of the straw using a contractor with a combine header on a forage harvester. It suits our lazy system and leaves us with no combining, no straw to dispose of and a bigger window for the next crop."

He also stresses the importance of growing a good crop of wheat for whole-crop which has ripened evenly and is all standing-up.

"The wheat crop needs to have an even dry matter throughout the field with no patches of grass in it," he says. "Good whole-crop just cannot be made from a poor wheat crop."

By growing wheat for whole-crop as well as growing forage maize, Mr Wright says he is also able to rotate maize and cereal land which helps weed control in the maize crop.

Another advantage he points out is that unlike a lot of grass silage, whole-crop forage produces no effluent.

At whole-crop harvest time, feed grade urea, or its equivalent, is applied in granular form from an applicator on the harvester, which Mr Wright considers is the best way of treating whole-crop.

Mr Wright says that whole-crop forage is made just like grass or maize silage with chop length, good consolidation and clamp sealing all important considerations.

He says that once made, urea treated whole-crop, with a pH of seven plus, is very stable in the silage pit, and can be fed out again after a week if necessary.

At Glebe Farm, whole-crop is usually fed as a substitute for maize silage in mid- and late lactation where it raises the pH of the overall ration and is reckoned to have a positive effect on herd health.

Mr Wright advises that it should never form the major component of the forage diet and that maximum inclusion rate should be 40% of forage dry matter intake.

His herd, managed by his son David, calves all-the-year-round, and in April, 172 cows in milk had a rolling average of 7459 litres at 4.1% fat and 3.4% protein.

Concentrate use, including 50% of the calculated whole-crop intake as wheat, was 2.6t a cow. The bottom line shows a margin over purchased feed of 20.42p/litre or £1522 a cow.


LINK PROJECT

A three-year LINK research project on whole-crop, jointly funded by government and 10 industry sponsors, is due to finish at the end of this month.

The £350,000 research programme has been carried out at Reading University, the Centre for Dairy Research (CEDAR) and ADAS Drayton under the watchful eye of project manager Colin Wright who farms at Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire.

Various nutritional aspects of whole-crop as a feed for dairy cows have been examined over the three-year period, and a report on the project is expected to be published early next year.

Half of the cash for the programme has come from the government, with the other half coming from the Maize Growers Association as lead sponsors, and from Dalgety, BOCM Pauls, the former MMB, Bibby, Rumenco, ICI, Trouw, Cambridge Plant Breeders, Zeneca and Hispec.

Colin Wright… once made, urea-treated whole-crop is very stable in the silage pit and can be fed out again after about a week.

Cereals grown for harvesting are eligible for area aid payments. Timing of harvest is critical as dry matter content can change by 2% a day..