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Reduce Your Forage Costs

Reducing the Cost of Forages

Graham Ragg, Product Manager
Home grown forages are normally the lower cost way of feeding ruminant livestock, so it is still worth looking at whether costs can be reduced further, but not at the expense of lower crop yields or producing poorer quality feed.

Cost of land
The cost of land is the biggest outlay whether it’s owned or rented. The best way of spreading the cost or producing lower cost forage is to maximise the yield per acre.  The lowest cost forage per tonne will come from the best, highest yielding crop, so care needs to be taken that important inputs are not cut back which sacrifice yield. However with a lot of thought and planning rather than a knee-jerk reaction it could be possible to ‘produce more from less inputs’. Maximising output from land might mean growing three crops every two years or possibly two crops in the same year. An alternative strategy might be to sell some land or give up renting land and buy in forages from neighbours.
Less complicated rotations
Growing quality grass only may be a solution to lowering forage costs, particularly in areas where alternative crops are marginal. In better areas the adoption of other forages such as maize, wholecrop or fodder beet could help to reduce dependence on more expensive bought in feeds.

Lower input crops
Growing lower input crops such as grass/clover leys or triticale instead of wheat or green crops such as kale, forage rape or stubble turnips could save on input costs. Careful consideration needs to be made so that overall stocking rate and feed production is not compromised.
Lengthening the grazing season
This will reduce forage costs, as grazing is roughly a quarter of the cost of buying in feed and half the cost of silage. Tools such as selecting grass varieties which grow at lower temperatures either end of the season could be important. Improving land drainage or putting in cow tracks will also help lengthen the grazing season. In dry areas mid-season forage rapes or stubble turnips can even out the mid-season dip in grassland performance. Kale crops can be grown for November to January grazing and ryecorn is another crop which can be grazed on free draining soils in January and February.
When growing forages, reducing machinery and labour costs also need to be considered.  Are you better using a contractor or doing the job yourself? Is direct drilling better than conventional ploughing? Or are you better off making two cuts of silage rather than three. The answer will be different on every farm depending on workload, soil type and aspirations in terms of the quality of forage which needs to be produced.
When it comes down to inputs, which can be reduced or where can costs be saved?
Reducing lime input
Optimal pH for each crop being grown is key to achieving a maximum yielding crop. Regular soil sampling is vital to produce a pro-active plan and cash flow of spending/investment. The choice of crop will determine spending to some extent, with barley, lucerne and fodder beet having the highest pH requirement while lupins grown as a high protein forage prefer acidic soils.

Lowering fertiliser input 
This can be possible on some farms but would potentially be a false economy on others.  The widespread use of FYM, slurry and even digestate from Anaerobic Digesters have improved nutrient availability from the soil.  Lowering nitrogen levels on most crops from the optimum level will reduce yield and make the cost per tonne of forage higher. On grass it may be possible to introduce clover into the sward and replace some bought in nitrogen with naturally produced forms.

Reducing seed costs
Not necessarily through buying cheaper seed which may have more impurities, lower vigour, lower yield or produce a poorer quality crop. Areas of saving could come from longer periods between reseeds if swards are managed well. Improving grass without reseeding by good husbandry and correct inputs, improving grass by overseeding to rejuvenate the existing sward or simpler rotations will save seed costs.

Less sprays
Less sprays to save costs might be achieved by growing more disease resistant crops such as triticale or maize rather than winter wheat.  Rolling seedbeds will reduce expenditure on slug pellets. Improved rotations will help in controlling some of the worst yield penalisers such as Blackgrass, which is very difficult and expensive to eradicate. In the future, new technology such as precision farming using satellite cameras or infra-red cameras on machinery will drastically reduce agrochemical applications. However, if you have land with over 5% dock inclusion it will be cost effective to use a selective herbicide.

Saving on forage additives
Having spent all your energy and investment in growing a good crop of forage, is it wise to cut additive costs? Unfortunately silage dry matter losses in the field, in the clamp and at feed out could amount to a 25% reduction. So is spending 90p to £1.30/tonne on additives really a bad investment? Remember, on all forages high palatability, high intakes and high performance are more important than ever.
If we can help further call your local Crop Nutritionist - find your nearest store.

Source Details

Graham Ragg, Product Manager

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