Whatever the weather may bring

This year has been a year of extremes so far and trying to predict the weather for the summer ahead is challenging.


John Spence, of Limagrain UK, says the key issue for many dairy farmers will be a potential forage shortage in the following winter, so being prepared is key. He says: "Growing short-term mixtures to provide plentiful, high-quality forage is one solution or, where the location is suitable, consider other forage crops, such as maize.

Overseeding with a good quality grass mixture containing a high proportion of Italian ryegrasses and hybrids will give maximum production in a tight window.

"Red clover will work well when drilled with hybrid grasses as persistence for both plants is generally three to four years.

"Red clover yields well compared to white clover and has a prostrate growth habit, meaning the plant sits above the cutter bar.

Drought conditions

"Red clover and hybrid ryegrasses fare well in drought conditions, as they are deep-rooting and give higher quality silage with increased sugar and protein content."

If opting for a full reseed, Mr Spence urges farmers to consider the prevailing weather conditions.

Mr Spence says: "Soil temperatures in June are likely to be optimum for the establishment of both grasses and clovers.

If it is very dry, consider directly  drilling seed rather than broadcasting to encourage better soil-to-seed contact, but be careful to drill seed no deeper than 1.5cm.

The wet, cold spring has delayed slurry and fertiliser applications and full slurry stores have encouraged many farmers to take a first cut earlier than perhaps they would have liked to.

Peter Smith, Volac silage expert, says taking a cut at the right time when wetter than target is often preferable to delaying hoping the weather will improve.

Early cut

He says: "Many farmers will view an early cut as a clearing cut to remove old grass and this has allowed for slurry spreading immediately afterwards.

"Others may opt to harvest an early light crop of high nutritional value before quality starts to decline.

When conditions are wet, it is even more critical to set up machinery correctly as it is easy to drag soil into the silage crop when the ground is soft.

"The contamination from soil bacteria will have a significant adverse impact on silage quality and palatability.

"Wilting rapidly is vital and mowing in the morning and kicking out grass within the hour where practical is the best way to achieve this."

Mr Smith says silage made in wet conditions is at risk of a poor fermentation due to possible contamination, but also because a large amount of water needs to be ‘pickled' to produce the required amount of acid.

He says: "The use of a fermentation-specific additive with high bacteria numbers, such as Ecosyl, is highly recommended to ensure the correct fermentation process takes place with desirable bacteria.

"In contrast, where the weather is forecast dry for the long-term, it is necessary to take the grass off as soon as possible while there is still sufficient moisture within it.Campaign

Mature grass

"This mature grass will push a seed head up and the rapid lignification will increase the amount of non-digestible fibre in the plant, reducing palatability and feed value.

Taking the crop while it is still leafy will ensure there is enough moisture for fermentation and will preserve quality.

"During hot, dry conditions, it may not be necessary to ted out the grass, as it may already be at optimum dry matter and only a minimal wilt will be required.

"If the grass is harvested hot, there is a risk of poor compaction in the clamp leading to heating and the formation of moulds and yeasts, resulting in higher mycotoxin levels.

To prevent this, using an additive, such as Ecocool, is effective.

Sign up for our newsletter

Never miss out on the latest news, special offers on Ecosyl products and expert advice on making consistently better silage.