Forage crops: ‘There has to be a win-win situation’

Westerwold ryegrass and Italian ryegrass are the buzz words in Irish farming at present. The forage crops are known for vigorous growth and high production levels.

However, these forage crops are best suited to filling a big gap in a fodder deficit where grazing ground cannot be accessed.

Patrick Cashman from Goldcrop went into detail on what you can expect from these crops at a recent Teagasc/Goldcrop farm walk on forage crops at John Cullen Grain in Co. Wexford.

It isn’t something that’s done in a normal year; but – depending on your particular circumstances – there might be a place for it this year.

“If you have an ability to graze fodder rape, it’s probably the best option because it’s the highest yielding and higher yield means that it works out a bit better cost wise,” Patrick added.

“Where people are looking at working with a tillage farmer and they want to bale something or conserve feed, they’re looking at Italian ryegrass and Westerwolds.

“Fodder rape is about 12% dry matter and quite high in nitrates, so it would be less than ideal to bale it in December.

The ryegrass is a bit higher in sugars and dry matter, which makes it more suited to bale in the autumn and the spring.

Aside from the vigorous growth habit of the ryegrasses, the versatility of the crops are an advantage as they can be grazed, zero-grazed of baled.

Westerwold ryegrass must be harvested before going to seed and sprayed off with glyphosate, Patrick added.

“Italian ryegrass has to go through a winter to go to seed. It won’t go to seed until next May; it’s safe from a weed point of view,” he noted.

“From the point of view of contamination, it’s essential that these crops are sprayed off with glyphosate before a spring crop.”

Patrick Cashman from Goldcrop addressing the crowd at the recent Teagasc/Goldcrop farm walk in Co. Wexford

Suit your scenario

Patrick explained that these grass crops can be useful where a livestock farmer has tillage land away from the yard or where they have a good relationship with a tillage farmer.

It all depends on your particular scenario.

“The main area we see these fitting in is on arable land away from the home block that isn’t growing anything at the moment and is going back into spring cropping next year.

“If there are grass fields that are under-performing, there might be potential to put in Italian ryegrass and reseed it normally next year.”

He added: “What measures are taken will be driven by what the fodder deficit is. These measures aren’t something that will be done in a normal year; if you don’t need to take them, don’t.”

Things to be aware of

Where no fencing is available, these crops need to be baled or zero-grazed. Zero-grazing from mid-November – for six weeks – can cause damage to the soil. Patrick added that four-to-five days of good weather will allow a farmer to bale the crop; but there’s a risk to the soil when zero-grazing in bad weather.

The justify the expense of growing the crop, it needs to be left in the ground until March.

“You need to be able to carry the crop until the middle of March to get sufficient yield. The growth that will come in March will be substantially better than in the back-end of the year.

Where we see these crops working better is if there could be a continued relationship between the arable farmer and the livestock farmer; where that field is carried out for another month and maize is planted, but there has to be a market for that maize as well.

“There has to be a win-win situation. There has to be profit for the arable farmer, but there has to be a fair price for the livestock farmer as well. With a bit of understanding on both sides, it could work.”