CAP cropping rules will lead to winter ration changes

The three-crop element of the new CAP greening rules could see dairy farmers change their cropping plans, changing the mix of forages in cattle rations.

Dairy consultant Paul Macer says it is very much a farm-specific decision that depends on the area involved, adding that it might be possible to slightly reduce the arable area so that crop diversification and EFA requirements are not triggered.

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In situations where exemptions cannot be met and where grass and maize are currently being grown, there is the option of whole-cropping cereals to get the extra crop into the rotation. In areas where it is not possible to grow maize, using a combination of cereals for whole-crop may be the solution.

Mr Macer, partner at Kite Consulting, says harvest date compatibility could be an issue with growing more than one cereal crop, but that whole-crop wheat, barley, oats and triticale could all produce nutritious silage.

“The techniques for ensilaging these different forages are nothing new, but with whole-cropping, the relatively short weather window for harvesting can be an issue, as in hot weather it can go quickly get too dry for optimum fermentation.”

Mr Macer says if clamp logistics allowed, whole-cropping for alkalage can also be an option for some.

“It does have a rumen pH benefit when it’s done well, as it’s an alkaline silage running alongside the acidic regular silage, as well as providing higher starch and effective fibre levels.”

Looking at options for nitrogen-fixing crops to meet the Environmental Focus Area (EFA) requirements, Mr Macer adds that peas and beans are an option for dairy farmers as well as being a crop diversification option. These pulses can either be whole-cropped or more likely combined and the seeds processed to be incorporated into stock rations.

“Forage legumes will also tick the box for N-fixing crops and another crop that’s attracting interest is lucerne,” he says.

“It’s a superb crop if you have the right soil type and climate– it’s relatively cheap to grow and yields very well and you can deal with it with your normal silage machinery. Where lucerne cannot be grown, I am looking at red clover to do a similar job on some farms.”

Mr Macer says for optimum nutrition each crop needs to be analysed separately and regularly.

“Whole-crop and maize tend to be more uniform than the multi-cut crops as they come all at one harvest date. However, the digestibility of the grain increases the longer it has been ensiled.

“Maize digestibility increases rapidly in the first three months and continues to improve, so we’re trying to get people into a situation where they’re not ever feeding fresh maize and creating a carryover from the year before.”