Maximising grazed forage use crucial for future success

Farmers need to make better use of grazed grass and change their approach to silage if they are to prevent costs from spiralling.

Speaking at the event Charlie Morgan of IBERS, Aberystwyth, said farmers had to make dramatic changes to their systems to cut costs and boost productivity.

“Silage came in in the 1960s and now we know nothing different. But our costs are going up and up – silage has become expensive. We have got to make winter fodder, but most systems are now dependent on making winter silage – that has got to change. We have got to make more use of grazed grass.”

In 2005, with nitrogen fertiliser at £160/t, it cost 4.3p/kg of dry matter to grow grazed grass, and 8-9p/kg DM to make silage. In 2009, with nitrogen at £390/t, it will cost 6.3p/kg DM to grow grass, and silage will cost a massive 13.3p/kg DM. That compares with cereals at 10-12p/kg DM. “There is a lot more energy in 1kg of barley than 1kg of grass – and every 1p/kg DM increase in cost adds £48/head to a steer or suckler cow’s cost of production – or £80/head to a dairy cow. We have got to look at things differently.”

All swards should contain 30% white clover, to improve soil structure and fix 150kg/ha of nitrogen – worth more than £170/ha. But farmers should not cut back on necessary fertiliser on their best ground. “Cut back on the permanent pasture that will fail to respond as well – but make your best ground work harder.”

Instead of producing as much silage as possible, producers should use their poorer ground to extend the grazing season, and push their best ground to produce top-quality silage. “We don’t use half of what we grow – we are too wasteful.”

To extend the grazing season, producers should make better use of grass, energy and protein crops, and brassicas. Choices would depend on nutrient requirements, growing season, and field type. Options included red clover and chicory, forage rape, kale, swedes and stubble turnips – but all must be strip grazed to prolong the season and avoid poaching, he added.