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‘Cinderella crop’ will help raise quality and cut costs

Farmers concerned about cutting costs of forage production and increasing feed value of whole crop silage heard the latest trial results at a meeting in Herefordshire. Ann Hardy reports.

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Producing the best P and most cost effective wholecrop silage this summer is likely to mean growing barley, while adding peas to the mix will produce a ‘ration ready’ product.

 

This message came from Francis Dunne, of seed specialists Field Options, whose farmer meeting in Herefordshire focused on increasing output and cutting losses from forage.

 

Drawing on new findings from 2015 trials undertaken by Biotal at NIAB-TAG’s Harper Adams site, he said barley was particularly suited to wholecropping because of its energy density (which was higher than wheat), the quality of its straw (more digestible than wheat straw), and the high- est grain to straw ratio of all the contending cereals.

 

However, he described spring barley in particular as a ‘Cinderella crop’ which was not widely promoted for wholecropping. “The agronomy industry doesn’t push it because there are so few inputs required to grow the crop,” he said. “It needs very little fertiliser, only one herbicide and one fungicide if you choose a disease-re- sistant variety, and it takes just 14 weeks from sowing to harvest – that’s what farmers need.”

 

Looking at costs of production per utilised mega- joule (MJ) of energy, he said every farmer’s objective should be to produce any forage for less than 1p/MJ.

 

Barley came well within this whether sown in winter (as low as 0.62p/MJ) or spring (0.7p/MJ), while costs of production were even lower when it was undersown with grass. Al- though not the very cheapest to grow, the energy density of barley was highest of all the wholecropped cereals at 10.5 for winter and 10.6MJ/kg DM for spring-sown. (See table).

 

Winter barley was also the earliest to reach 45% dry matter – the target for wholecropping.

 

Rye in contrast did not fare well, with a high energy cost (0.74p/MJ), a low ME at 10.1 MJ/kg DM, and the lowest yield of the winter cereals at the target 45% dry matter.

 

Cynical about its rise in popularity, Mr Dunne said rye had been pushed be- cause it was a hybrid which ‘made the breeder more money’, although it could have a place in drought- prone ground.

 

Barley, he said, would truly come into its own when it was partnered with peas, preferably combining rather than forage peas which may swamp the barley. He suggested using the grain type Maple pea, Rose, for its natural pest resistance and aggressive nature, bearing in mind the limited availability of herbicides for mixed crops.

 

Aiming for a standing crop of 50:50 peas and barley, he said this required a seed rate of 60:40 in favour of peas.

 

This would achieve an ME of 10.8 MJ/kg DM while its protein at 12.5-13% was considerably higher than cereals alone.

 

“Wholecrop can be a part of most people’s systems,” he said. “It has the potential to yield 12-16t DM/ha.”

 

Wholecrop trials 2015:

Utilised winter and spring crop costs (assumes 20% losses between mower and animal)

1: ME = conservative estimate based on NIAB trials. *Wholecrop peas and barley = 12.5-13% protein compared with 8-9% for straight cereals.

 

Date @

45% DM

Costs/ha

Utilised

DM T/ha

@ 45% DM

Cost/t

freshweight

@ 45% DM

Cost/t

DM

ME1

MJ/kg

DM

Cost

p/MJ

Winter barley (Volume) July 1 £998 14.1 £31.74 £70.53 10.5 0.67
Winter wheat (Evolution) July 29 £1,036 16.4 £22.72 £50.49 10.4 0.61
Spring barley (Westminster) July 15 £799 10.7 £33.55 £74.55 10.6 0.70
Spring barley (Undersown) July 15 £680 10.4 £29.41 £65.35 10.6 0.62
Barley x peas (Wholecrop) July 15 £774 10.4 £33.48 £74.40 10.8 0.69*
Spring triticale (Dublet) July 22 £830 11.7 £31.99 £71.10 10.2 0.70

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