By Nick Fone

SELF-LOADING forage-wagons have the potential to significantly cut silage-making costs, according to research conducted in Northern Ireland.

After a direct comparison between a single forage-wagon and a silage team using a self-propelled forager, it was found that the one-tractor, one-man band used 80% less labour and half the fuel than the five-man silage team.

However it did take twice the time to cover the same ground, reports Peter Frost from the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland, Hillsborough.

“Following our trial it seems that the benefits of using a wagon far outweigh the forager”s advantages under the conditions of the test,” he comments.

 “Although it does take double the time to cover the ground, a forage wagon requires 84% less power and doesn”t put as much pressure on the buckrake, giving the driver a chance to roll the clamp more effectively

.” An important point – although the average chop length achieved by the forager is two-thirds of the forage-wagon”s (40-60mm) – silage quality proved to be virtually identical.

“This difference in chop length that means a farmer using a forage-wagon will require a 15% larger clamp to store the same tonnage of crop,” points out Mr Frost.

 “Of course he will then reap the benefits of a better structured ration.

” But if your primary concern is to get grass into the clamp as quickly as possible, a silage operation that takes twice the time will not suit. Doubling the number of men and machines would help to achieve this.

“Two self-loading forage-wagons would match the output of the five-man forage gang,” says Jim Squires, sales director of Landmec Pottinger – the company which commissioned the trial.

“The labour requirement would be 60% less than the forager-based team while the power requirement would be 320hp – two 160hp tractors – compared with the total of 960hp for the forage-harvester”s team.

” However the benefits of using a forage-wagon diminish as transport distance increases, output being directly affected by the number of transport units involved.

 “At present our sales of forage-wagons are generated by two distinct groups. The first are farmers who struggle to get hold of contractors at the crucial time and so want to take control of their own silage operation,” points out Mr Squires.

“Our other typical customers are contractors looking to cut the cost of their grass-silage operation

.” Foragers suffer two or three times as much wear in grass compared with maize, thanks to soil and stone contamination of the crop, he says. Because a forage-wagon is a simpler and cheaper to maintain, the damage and cost is reduced, allowing the contractor to make savings in both depreciation and repairs

. “The additional bonus for a contractor with more than one wagon is that they can satisfy more than one customer at a time.”