Wholecrop silage: An option for livestock and tillage farmers?

Rain has eased some pressure on farms across the country, but grass and fodder supplies have been severely impacted.

Wholecrop silage will no doubt be on many people’s minds and may be an attractive option for both livestock and tillage farmers.

Grain prices are low, particularly barley which is currently at a harvest price of €135/t (excluding any bonuses) and selling before harvest may make financial sense; but think out the costs and value of that cereal crop before you rush into buying or selling it to ensure you get a fair price or, in the livestock farmer’s case, value for money.

Good relationships between livestock and tillage farmers are essential where cereal crops are being purchased for fodder.

Many will put a contract in place if they are planning ahead and this is essential good practice, along with agreeing a price and what that price is based on.

Once the crop is cut it is going to be leaving the tillage farm and so payment should be received at that time, unless you have a trust built up with the other farmer and have every confidence that they will pay at an agreed time.

What crops are suitable?

High-yielding grain crops are suited to wholecrop silage and are also most likely the crops that tillage farmers want to harvest themselves.

Crops of rye and triticale in most cases will have been planted with wholecrop silage in mind, so when looking to purchase ‘off the shelf’, so to speak, farmers should be looking at high-yielding winter wheat or winter and spring barley crops.

The grain should account for approximately 50% of the total dry matter yield and the crop should be harvested when grain is at the cheesy stage, when there is green in the canopy and when the stems are still green.

Anyone thinking of buying or selling a crop of winter barley should act fast.

While crop conditions are generally good in the south of the country, yields are likely to be significantly impacted by the lack of rainfall after planting and into the summer the further north you travel.

How much did it cost to get the crop this far?

Tillage farmers should calculate the cost of growing the crop up to now and then factor in the cost of harvesting, drawing grain and baling.

With harvest prices at €135/t and €157/t respectively for barley and wheat – before bonuses – calculate the expected yield and payment for that grain. Straw will be in short supply this season and a good price is likely to be available so this must be considered as well.

Grass weeds

Another thing tillage farmers might consider is grass weed problems. If a field is infested with a grass weed, like black-grass for example, harvesting before the weeds go to seed could help to keep the problem under control.

However, this can be dicey and grass weeds must not be gone to seed before the crop is cut or the weed could be spread further.