By Graham Ragg, Mole Valley Farmers Senior Agronomist & Product Manager
With the backdrop of the highest inflation rate for 40 years, rising interest rates, difficulty finding labour and the worst drought since 1976, this winter is going to be a real challenge.
Thanks to this summer’s drought, with record temperatures of more than 40°C in the UK and wildfires across Europe, it could take a whole year for many farms to fully recover.
The effects on forage stocks and grazing have been devastating, with many farmers having used up half their first cut silage by the middle of August.
Reports from eastern England saw forage maize being harvested in early August at a third of the normal yield. Some concerned farmers estimate they could run out of forage by Christmas.
Couple the drought with the disruption to world food supplies due to the Ukraine war and we are in a ‘perfect storm’ where grain and feed prices are likely to remain high this winter.
So what are the strategies that farmers can adopt now to mitigate the lack of forage on farms?
Lengthening the grazing season. Keeping stock out on the grass, weather permitting, longer and utilising late-season grass growth and any ‘mini flushes’ of grass once the drought breaks.
Late season silage. While silage cut in October and November will be of low quality and cost more per tonne in contracting charges, it may be a worthwhile option for farmers low on silage. It’s important to calculate your forage stocks and requirements before deciding.
Buying in extra forage. Hay and straw were largely unaffected by the drought and where these feeds can be purchased at reasonable prices, these might boost forage stocks.
Growing your own cereals. Winter wheat and barley yielded well in 2022 and is very versatile for feeding and bedding.
Buying in extra blends or compound feeds. In some situations this might be a worthwhile option so long as the milk: feed ratio stays favourable. For those with large forage shortages relying on blends and cake is not a total solution.
Selling stock before the winter. Auctioneers are reporting a surge in selling ahead of winter. This may be the answer for some, but with livestock prices likely to decline sharply as a result, it could be difficult for those wanting to continue to farm long-term.
Shorten the winter. One of the big advantages of the heatwave is the cereal and maize harvest will finish in record time. This will allow a large acreage to be sown with Westerwold or Italian Rye Grass. Both grasses will provide early grazing or an early silage cut in spring 2023, effectively shortening the winter. Forage Rye sown now would also supply early spring grazing.
Encourage early spring grass growth. Increasing the percentage of newly reseeded pastures will greatly increase early spring growth compared to old worn-out leys. Check soil nutrient status to make sure key levels of pH, phosphate and potash are not ‘holding back’ grass growth. Application of early spring nitrogen to new leys, Westerwold and Italian Rye Grass will also shorten the winter.
For further information or products to boost forage stocks contact the Grass & Forage helpline on 01769 576232.