A strategy for growing crops can save money and provide feed security

20th Dec 2010

Prices of cereals are high and increasing but an internationally renowned teaching and research centre has part of the answer for Welsh farmers.

The Farms Manager at IBERS in Aberystwyth University is developing strategies to grow high quality crops and maintain profit margins – it’s a model that other farms can adapt and help save thousands of pounds a year.

It can offer a secure supply and a settled price when the volatility of the market makes it difficult for milk and meat producers to plan their buying, says Dr Huw McConochie.

“Growing cereals and alternative forages is expensive when compared to growing and feeding grass, but a supply of home grown cereals and high protein forage provides essential nutrients at a more realistic and consistent cost when animals are inside,” he explains.

For the past two years the IBERS Farms have grown a range of crops to supply a proportion of the energy and protein needs of their 500 beef cattle, 300 dairy followers and 650 dairy cows.

The huge increase in prices this autumn made it more important than ever to develop the strategy, as profit margins were threatened in both the dairy and bull beef enterprises. Both are heavily reliant on bought-in cereals.

This year’s planting strategy has been successful, says Huw McConochie, and could show the way for other farmers.

“To combat against a variable and volatile market we grew 50ha of forage maize, 28ha of winter cereals and sowed and extra 15 ha of high protein red clover - all designed to limit the exposure of our farming operation to the unpredictable commodity market,” he says.

The other lesson from the IBERS Farms experience is that processing the crop is just as important as the growing.

“For the first time this year we harvested 4ha of our maize crop as ground maize ear silage, the crop yielded 18 tonnes per ha of a high starch, high energy forage which will replace the winter barley in the dairy diet when it runs out in December,” says Dr McConochie.

In addition the IBERS’ herd of bull beef cattle will receive a diet based around maize silage supplemented with minerals and protein, at a cost that matches bought-in feed before the surge in prices.

“My rationale is simple” says Dr. McConochie “growing crops on the farm is an insurance against those years when the price of cereals and bought in protein rises above the cost of growing the crops on the farm.”

IBERS Farms plan to develop a further range of crops, including fodder beet and a high protein forage such as sunflower , thus ensuring an adequate supply of nutrients for milk and beef production

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