Don’t panic when it comes to grass and maize management

Recent wet weather may be causing concerns over the quality of this season’s maize and grass silage stocks, but producers are being urged not to panic and do the best they can to mitigate problems.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly at Grassland UK, Johnny Bax from Biotal said it was likely many would have a wet, bulky, low sugar first cut, but there were a number of steps that could be taken to minimise problems.

“First cut drives rumen fermentation for next winter, so you need a strategy to maximise the feed value of what you’ve got.”

Delayed maize drilling is also likely to result in low starch crops at harvest, which will not be a good complement to the low-quality first-cut grass silage some farmers will produce.

“Think about the option of feeding whole crop cereals in the winter to balance the ration. Talk to your nutritionist about the best options,” said Mr Bax.

However, forage experts from the event said there were a number of steps that could be taken to get more from maize and grass silage this season:


• For those that have not drilled – sit tight and don’t rush in too quickly.

• If drilling is delayed into the second half of May – it may be worth looking at earlier varieties and reducing the seed rate by 5-10%.

• When maize is drilled late, a growth stimulator applied at the four- to six-leaf stage is recommended to bring forward harvest by a week.

• For those that have drilled and are experiencing wet conditions – go across the field in a zig zag and access seeds for rot. Where seeds are rotten, re-drilling may be necessary.

• There is a danger on some soils that heavy rainfall may have caused capping, making it difficult for the emerging shoot to break through. In extreme cases, a light cultivation might be required to break up the surface.

• Modern varieties are resilient, so although growth may have been delayed with the cold weather, once temperature improve, growth will resume.

First-cut silage:

• In wet areas, it is likely that first-cut grass silage will be wetter, bulkier and low in sugars. If the wet weather continues, treat with an innoculant that includes enzymes to help release the sugars and kick-start fermentation.

• Using a silage innoculant that produces lactic acid can help minimise the effects of spoilage organisms from soil contamination by creating a fast pH drop.

• A rapid pH drop is the most important attribute of an innoculant – check bacteria doubling times with the manufacturer.

• To reduce the risk of contamination, put hard core in gateways to reduce mud on tyres and ensure the tip-off area and buck rake are clean.

• Check tyre pressures and consider carting half loads to reduce ground damage.

• Consider baling wetter fields to reduce damage to the sward. This is particularly relevant on young leys.

• Consolidation is even more important in wet conditions – apply in thin layers and ensure even spread.

• Grass should not be left to wilt in the field for longer than 48 hours, otherwise you will begin to get bad fermentation.

• First cut may be lower quality, so it is worth making extra effort for second and third cut.

• It may be worth applying more fertiliser after first cut to get grass growing. This is a good opportunity to build up stocks for 2013.

Information from David Bright, Bright Seeds; Graham Ragg, Mole Valley Farmers; Chris Duller and Chris Coxon, DairyCo; Johnny Bax, Biotal; Peter Shipton, Kingshay.


See silaging pictures in our silaging gallery.