Machinery delights at Grassland & Muck 2014

New machinery is always a highlight of the Grassland & Muck Event, and visitors were in for a treat this year. Whether it was Pottinger’s mammoth 11.2m wide mounted mower, or Joskin’s giant Cargo trailer unit, the equipment was bigger and better than ever. Visitors to the silage clamp area were wowed by three Pistenbully piste-bashers, while others queued up to see new balers, foragers and muck spreaders in action.

“Visitors and exhibitors were delighted with this year’s event, and we’ve already had enquiries about booking stands for 2017,” said event organiser Alice Bell. Despite the mixture of sunshine and showers, almost 13,500 visitors made the most of the 190-acre site to see farm machinery in action, and to speak to more than 240 exhibitors about the latest research and advice.

The themes of this year’s event were valuing grass, best practice techniques, and, ultimately, maximising returns from the crop. And it certainly hit the spot, with standing room only in the Keenan-sponsored forums. Visitors queued up to hear how to get more from grass, with speakers like Dr Liz Genever from EBLEX teaming up with real farmers to combine cutting edge research with practical experience.

“When grass growth and quality is good, it costs 8p/kg of dry matter to produce,” said Dr Genever. “That compares to bought-in feed at 32p/kg DM.” Increasing annual yields by 20% could therefore save £170/ha in replacement silage costs or £544/ha in replacement concentrates.

Real farmers
Ed Green, who rears beef cattle on contract at Banks Farm, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, has significantly boosted grass yields over the past couple of years. “We were running 600 cattle on 400 acres, but now we’ve got the cattle on a bed-and-breakfast basis I’ve tried to increase numbers as much as possible,” he said. He now has 900 head of cattle, growing from 200kg to 460kg at an average liveweight gain of 1kg/day. “We’re looking to increase to 1000 head soon.”

In complete contrast was Alex Robertson, farm manager at Coopon Carse Farm, Newton Stewart, Scotland, who cuts fresh grass daily over the summer to feed to his 500 dairy cows. “We have 1800mm of rain on heavy clay, so grazing isn’t really an option,” he said. “Instead we’re feeding up to 33kg of fresh grass a day on top of a total mixed ration – and it’s cut our feed costs by almost £62,000 a year.”

Feeding grass
The principles behind maximising grass growth and quality were the same, regardless of the system, said Cathal Bohane, senior Keenan nutritionist. Measuring grass growth, grazing or cutting it to the correct level and rotating pasture were all key. “As grass intakes increase, feed costs decrease; and although grass is a variable product, good grass and cow management can boost profit margins significantly,” he said.

To maximise cow health, it was vital to know what the cows were eating and to monitor rumen fill and body condition, added Mr Bohane. “We measure grass availability and match it to demand, adjusting supplementary feed accordingly. Our precision feeding group of farmers average 4363 litres of milk from forage, with a margin over purchased feed of £2012/cow; considerably more than traditional grass-based systems of 3130 litres and £1589/cow, respectively. There is huge potential if you manage and feed your grass well.”

Choosing varieties
But choosing the right grasses is also essential. And visitors to the event had plenty of new varieties – many demonstrated in sown plots – to choose from. “The new Recommended Grass and Clover List attracted a lot of interest,” said Piers Badnell at DairyCo. “It’s now interactive so you can tell the programme what you want and it provides you with suitable varieties, which makes it a lot more user-friendly.”

One exciting development was the new range of Festulolium grasses – crossbreds of different types of fescue and ryegrass that lasted at least a year longer than conventional leys, said Tim Kerridge, agricultural director at DFL Trifolium. “They are deeper rooting and more tolerant to sub-optimal conditions like drought and water stress, producing 25-40% higher yields under these conditions than conventional grasses.”

However, farmers had to get better at matching grass varieties to their soil type, climate and farming system, said GrassMaster’s Charlie Morgan. “It’s like buying different feed concentrates – you have to look at what your grasses can do for you.” Considerations included longevity, yield, seasonality and fertiliser use efficiency. “You also need to look at protein quality and the digestibility of the grass – one point in D Value is worth 0.3 litres of milk a day,” he added. “All of these are major factors in improving the profitability of your business, but you have to tell your seed merchant what you want.”

Soil compaction
Getting the soil in optimum condition has been a challenge following two wet summers and the wettest winter on record, so it was no surprise that the new compaction alleviation demonstrations proved a massive draw. “It’s been extremely busy – a lot of people have come along particularly to look at the machines and find out how to relieve compaction,” said Dr Paul Newell-Price, senior soil scientist at ADAS.

A survey in 2010 found that up to three-quarters of grass fields were moderately or badly compacted – and that could now be higher, he added. “The thing to do is go and dig some holes and see if you have compaction – only then can you decide how and when to alleviate it.”

New machinery & muck
New machinery is always popular at the Grassland & Muck Event, and this year was no exception, with more than £20 million of equipment demonstrating and on display, including an innovative robotic mower. From fieldwork to feeder wagons, visitors inspected machinery at every stage of the forage process, with the muck spreading demonstrations also drawing huge crowds.

“When it comes to muck and slurry, you’re looking to maximise crop-available nutrients,” said Prof Brian Chambers, head of soils and nutrition at ADAS. “You need to apply manures accurately and evenly, with minimum leaching and environmental losses.” Equipment like trailing shoes and slurry injectors doubled the number of potential spreading days, with cleaner grass and improved nitrogen efficiency, he added. “If you get it right you could save £1000s a year in fertiliser costs.”

Precision farming
This kind of precision farming is finally making the cross-over from arable production to grassland, and Yara – which sponsored the event – used its N Sensor technology to get the Grassland & Muck site into tip-top condition this year. “We aimed to apply 130kg/ha of nitrogen fertiliser, using the N Sensor to vary application rates according to grass growth,” said Yara agronomist Ian Matts. “Application rates varied by 25% above and below the mean – and the field we had previously used N Sensor on had by far the most even grass cover.”

To better measure grass growth, Mole Valley Farmers used the Grassland & Muck Event to launch their revolutionary Grassometer – a wellie-mounted sensor linked to a farm-specific computer programme. “The App automatically produces a grazing wedge which updates on the phone as the fields are walked,” said the firm’s Hugh Frost. “The Grassometer literally puts the control into the boots of the farmer, meaning they can make valid comparisons almost instantaneously.”

The bottom line
Grassland and muck are clearly no longer things to take for granted – utilised properly they really can make dramatic changes to animal health and farm profitability. “Grass growth has been fantastic this year, and hopefully with the knowledge and equipment gained from the Grassland & Muck Event visitors can go on to improve their own farm profitability in future years,” said show organiser Alice Bell. “Grassland is no longer second-best to arable land, and we’re delighted, in some small way, to be part of that transformation.”

•    Grassland & Muck returns to Stoneleigh in 2017.
 

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