5 July 2002

Whole-crops a better bet

Last week saw the first

national Scottish arable

event for four years.

Maximising returns from arable crops was the theme

for the field day near

Inverurie, Aberdeenshire,

which saw a good farmer

turnout. farmers weeklys

arable team reports the

highlights over the

following three pages

THE best thing arable farmers can do with a crop of cereals at todays prices is to put it through an animal as whole-crop.

With the right advice livestock output can benefit, costs are cut and value is added to the crop.

"We have the technology to do it and the financial background is accelerating it," says whole-crop enthusiast John Bax, technical manager for additive supplier Biotal.

With wheat worth under £60/t it makes sound economic sense, prompting a growing number of farms to divert all their cropping into whole-crop production, he says.

A market is even developing for standing crops on arable farms, livestock producers typically paying up to £570/ha (£230/acre) for wheat and £445/ha (£180/acre) for barley, according to yield potential, he says.

"After widespread silaging problems after the wettest June for a century many farms are now looking to whole-crop to rescue the situation," he adds.

But only quality crops will do. "There is a temptation to put diseased fields and end-rigs into whole-crop. But it is important to get the quality."

George Farquhar of Caledonia Seeds, which has seen whole-cropping expand rapidly in north-east Scotland agrees. "You want the best possible grain quality. It is the grain not the straw that provides the feed value." Fungicides have a role, a flag leaf strobilurin generally providing sufficient control to avoid the need for an ear spray.

Fertiliser rates need not change, but pgr choice must avoid stem-strengthening products, which increase the lignin content and spoil the feeding potential of the crop, says Mr Bax.

Harvest timing is also vital. "Do not go too early, aim for 30-50% dry matter for conventional whole-crop. The goal with cereal whole-crop is to maximise starch content not protein."

Whole-crop combining peas and lupins are also proving popular as a source of protein. "Some farms growing cereals, peas and lupins for whole-crop are now virtually self-sufficient in feed," says Mr Bax.

Mackies at Westertown, near Inverurie, is an example. "The low cereal price means they have put their entire land area into feeding the dairy herd, ensiling wheat, peas, barley and lupins."

Beef producers can benefit, too. Billy Tweedie at Brownsbank, Biggar, has used spring barley whole-crop to improve daily liveweight gain in Limousin-cross bullocks and heifers by 1.25kg. Conformation has benefited too, a move from U4L to R4L adding £100 per animal, says Mr Bax.

"The trend is towards less grass for grazing and less for silage too, because it produces such a variable feed. Whole-crop feeds more consistently and is significantly improving animal output on a range of farms. Feed costs are lower, whole-crop averaging £20/tDM less than grass silage," Mr Bax says.

But much will depend upon seed cost, says CSC Crop Cares Keith Dawson. "We need higher seed rates anyway in Scotland and we will be sowing later than further south, because the crop usually follows winter wheat. So their popularity will very much depend upon the cost of the seed relative to the yield benefits on offer." &#42

With wheat worth under £60/t the best option could be whole-cropping to add value through livestock feeding, Biotals John Bax urged visitors to last weeks Scottish crop event near Inverurie.