Do you value the land you farm?

Published 24 January 14

Land and its value is an emotive issue and one that is pretty much out of farmers’ hands, says Piers Badnell, DairyCo technical extension officer.

The price of land keeps going up and it’s becoming increasingly hard to justify purchasing it, compared to average farm profits. Instead, making the most of your existing assets and increasing forage production, which are in your direct control, can make more sense.

On a recent visit to Gelli Aur Farms, part of the Dairy Development Centre, we discussed what annual DM tonnage per acres is possible. The Centre collects grass measurements from 12 dairy units across Wales and uses this data to help develop best practise. The annual DM production across grassland among the units, including two organic enterprises, ranges from 8 to 14 tonnes per hectare.

John Owen, farm manager at Gelli Aur, was keen to stress that geography and location did not play a major role in grass production, instead it was management – one of the farms above 1,000ft was producing 11 tonnes DM/annum.  

It’s easy to make excuses about issues which are outside of one’s direct control, such as why the land is less productive. But the things you can control play a vital role and should not be ignored. Would you, for example, be better off investing in infrastructure, drainage, reseeding, increasing soil fertility or utilising the grass better on your own land rather than trying to acquire more at a much higher cost?

Even this early in the season you could be utilising your grass. In many areas the lack of cold weather has resulted in some steady grass growth this winter. This means many fields which were last grazed in October are now carrying a fairly decent grass cover of around 2,400kg DM/ha.

If it’s not grazed off over the next few weeks, the result will be an increasing amount of dead material in the base of the sward and poorer grazing quality when cows do finally go out grazing.

Research shows that cows can eat between 2 and 3kg DM of grass per hour – as long as they haven’t got a belly full of silage! So turning out for 3-4 hours a day will give intakes of around 6kg DM of high quality, low cost forage.

Early season ryegrass is frequently of better quality than many silages being fed, with an ME over 11 and proteins of 20% plus. Grazed grass will cost about one third that of silage and about one sixth of concentrate so make the most of it.

Ground conditions for some will be unsuitable for early turnout – heavier farms may have little choice other than to watch covers build and quality drop. However, for those on lighter soils and with decent tracks and gateways, February could be a good opportunity to get cows out and reduce your feed, bedding and slurry handling costs. 

Currently, there are savings to be made of around £1.30/cow/day. Even if conditions turn colder later in the spring and grass growth stops, you will have been able to utilise this window.

These possible savings show that while there is little you can do about the cost of land, it is much better to focus on the things you can control, such as the productivity of what you already have.

By concentrating on quality, quantity and utilisation, Forage for Knowledge 2014 will bring the information which can help you make the best use of your forage, a resource that is in your hands.