Forage Crops Case Study
Lowfield Farm, North Yorkshire
“The advice and input we’ve received from Clive has been exceptional. With his help we have adopted changes that complement one another and work for our whole business, enabling us to work as efficiently and productively as possible while keeping animal health at the forefront.”
– Dairy farmer, Geoff Spence
Quality produce and exemplary animal welfare are pivotal to Geoff Spence’s large dairy farm in North Yorkshire. Continually improving milk quality, cow health and overall efficiency is always high on the agenda and, after seeking the expertise of Kings technical advisor, Clive Wood, the farm now boasts a sophisticated home-grown forage production programme.
Lowfield Farm in Northallerton is an award winning dairy farm, home to a 700 head Holstein herd and run by third generation farmer, Geoff Spence.
The farm prides itself on impeccable standards of animal welfare, hygiene, staff comfort and the latest innovations to aid sustainable, quality produce. Despite the challenges faced by the dairy industry, Geoff has managed to consistently increase the size of the herd over the years while also making considerable improvements to buildings and overall farm infrastructure. With such a clean and caring environment, the farm has already seen a 30% increase in milk production; something Geoff credits to making sure he always has a herd of happy cows.
“Animal welfare is key,” he explains. “We have to make every effort to review each aspect of how we work so that we can ensure we’re always doing the best for the health of the herd and performance of the business.”
High performing variety
One such aspect Geoff was keen to develop further was the forage he grew. Some of his maize crop had been affected by the prolonged drought in 2018 so he was keen to look at a more sophisticated production system.
“It’s important that forage is looked at in the same way as growing conventional cereal crops and their cost of production,” explains Kings technical advisor, Clive Wood. “In the North of England in particular, growing high yielding crops is critically dependant on time and this needs to be factored into any forage plan.”
After gaining a wider understanding of Geoff’s farm and existing forage crops, Clive had some instant recommendations. “A variety of maize had been used on the farm for a long time. Although it had performed well over time, there were other options available that could offer an additional 20-30 days of yield and growth performance.
“Some of the crop was being grown under plastic and was yielding 16 tonnes per acre. To avoid any delays in planting, an autumn sown rye had also never been incorporated so there were clear changes we could make to ensure Geoff was always achieving a timely harvest while seeing better results.”
As plant and variety breeding continues to evolve at such a rapid pace, considering new options is important each season. While a variety may have performed well several years ago, it does not mean that it will be the best option today. Clive continues, “It’s a good idea to introduce small amounts of new hybrids each year while taking into account ‘days-to-production.’ Results should always be evaluated too as these help to drive future decisions.”
After a review of several varieties, Geoff opted for KWS Calvini maize. A popular hybrid, Calvini is a high yielding crop with high starch content and, after being planted without any plastic covering five weeks later than the previous variety had been, it performed much better.
“The maize yielded 19 tonnes per acre on the strongest field areas, while less fertile land still performed just as well as the previous crop’s best result,” says Clive.
As well as the new variety, Clive also helped Geoff to integrate autumn sown rye grass in place of his conventional grass silage crops. This proved a great solution, with the rye helping to provide additional good quality forage while bridging the gap between the introduction of new maize options and the fermentation time required until their use. When it came to harvest, the rye yielded 11 tonnes per acre and had a much smaller cost of production associated with it too.
“This was a great result,” says Clive. “We were utilising an efficient forage production programme that was significantly reducing the cost of production for Geoff.” Each year Geoff plans to plant more maize, with up to 200 acres under plastic so that rye can be planted afterwards.
“It’s incredibly beneficial,” says Geoff, “because any money saved can be put towards reducing input costs and the need for concentrate feeds. It also instils real confidence that we can now grow a substantial amount of forage for ourselves and on our own land, without operating a larger programme reliant on additional rental costs.
“It’s not just about the quantity of forage we’re able to produce either – the quality is paramount. That has a direct impact on the standard and volume of our milk production, as well as the constituents which we get paid for.”
Clive has also worked with Geoff to incorporate westerworld grass around the farm to help boost existing and fast approaching end-of-life three-year grasses. Requiring two forage cuts before a three year reseed, this option helps to provide at least another spring/early summer of substantial yield. Making good use of the worn out pastures is also proving beneficial, with the remaining nutrient offering a great entry-point for more autumn sown rye. As a result there is no requirement for any man-made nutrients, eradicating additional fertiliser costs. Instead, the Calvini maize can be sown in April, harvested in October and then another autumn sown rye planted.
Speaking of the work, Geoff comments, “The advice and input we’ve received from Clive has been exceptional. With his help we have adopted changes that complement one another and work for our whole business, enabling us to work as efficiently and productively as possible while keeping animal health at the forefront. I really value his expertise and the support we have received from Kings.”
With the farm going from strength to strength, Geoff’s efforts are an excellent demonstration of how the implementation of an successful forage production strategy can benefit the whole business in terms of reduced costs and improved productivity. Clive is looking to increase forage yield further too, with plans to effectively utilise more land with a perennial rye grass and red clover mix.