Producers weigh up crop options to fill forage gap

With first-cut silage having come off up to a month later than usual this year, second and third cuts aren’t projected to be much better.

So, with a hot summer forecast, many farmers are looking for alternative forage options to ease the pressure of poor yields.

Many producers are seeing poor grass recovery growth rates, so are likely to enter the winter months short of forage, reckons Martin Titley of Advanta Seeds.

“Opting for summer or autumn-sown crops, such as stubble turnips, forage rape and forage rye will help fill the gap from reduced silage stocks.”

Drilling or broadcasting turnips into stubble after harvest in late July/early August is one option, but broadcasting into a standing crop two weeks before harvest will help retain some moisture, helping establish a good cover crop 12-14 weeks later, he explains.

“Stubble turnips are capable of yielding 38-40t/ha, equivalent of 3.5-4t DM/ha with an ME value of 211 and 16-17% crude protein.”

In terms of a fast-food crop for sheep, turnips are relatively cost effective at £90-£95/t, he adds.

Some lamb producers may wish to consider feeding concentrates to push finishing on, says independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings, but she advises weighing up the economics.

Considering early weaning would be a preferred option, she reckons.

“Providing ewes are in good condition it may be beneficial to wean early, keeping ewes on tight, poorer grazing with lambs having the best.”

But the worst thing to do is let lambs go backwards, says Ms Stubbings.

“No one is predicting high prices for October, so letting them take a check before bringing them back again won’t be economical at all.”

But if it’s a more winter hardy crop producers are after, Mr Titley suggests growing forage rape.

“Forage rape can be drilled from now through to July/early August ready for January/February grazing and with its waxier leaf it will stand a considerable amount of frost.

“Yields should be in the region of 25-35t/ha or 3.3-4t DM/ha with a crop establishment cost of £90-£100/ha, a relatively inexpensive catch crop.”

For producers wanting the best of stubble turnips and forage rape, mixes are also available, he adds.

“Tall, hardy rape complements turnips providing good amounts of energy and protein from both crops.”

Sowing forage rye is also a good alternative, reckons Mr Titley.

“Grazing lightly on low stocking rates before December will mean a good crop can be established for early turnout in February/March for beef, dairy or sheep.”

At 11-12% crude protein and 10ME, forage rye will yield 20-24t/ha, he adds.

Alternatively, putting in Italian ryegrass on top of maize stubbles will provide early spring grazing, as well as provide environmental benefits by preventing run off, he adds.