“Stubble turnips, forage rape and rape/ kale hybrids can be sown up until the end of August,” says Limagrain UK’s Martin Titley. “They’re quick to establish and some varieties can be ready for grazing within 12 weeks of sowing. Hardier varieties can be left for grazing over winter.
Rape/kale hybrids like Interval is an example of a fast-growing catch crop. “In our recent trials, it has produced yields 22% above the control. It’s an ideal crop for finishing lambs or for maintenance from late summer onwards,” he adds.
Limagrain quotes growing costs of forage rape of £408 per hectare with dry matter yields between 3.5 and four tonnes per hectare.
Stubble turnips cost £305 per hectare to grow with dry matter yields per hectare between 3.5 and five tonnes. “This crop makes an ideal feed in the autumn with hardy, mildew resistant varieties ideally suited to grazing through winter.”
And he suggests looking at brassica mixtures too. “Sheep producers can make things easier with these mixtures. Autumn Keep and Meat Maker, for example combine a high protein forage rape with kale, blended with a high-energy stubble turnip to provide a balanced autumn and winter keep with minimal effort. Advantages such as disease resistance, winter hardiness and early establishment have been ‘built-in’ too.
“And it is worth spending some time looking at the varieties on offer. Our annual trials compare yield and disease resistance of varieties of catch crops and the results can highlight significant differences.
“For example, there is a 20% yield difference between some stubble turnip varieties and this equates to more than one tonne of dry matter per hectare. Samson is one of the top yielding varieties in the trial with a dry matter yield of 5.63 tonnes per hectare and, as a bonus, this variety is preferentially grazed by sheep in grazing trials.”
Another catch crop worth considering is forage rye that can be sown as late as October, following maize or cereals. This can provide an early bite in spring with up to three weeks’ earlier spring growth than Italian ryegrass with yields are typically between five and six tonnes of dry matter per hectare.
“And if a greening crop is required, forage rye mixed with vetch makes an excellent green cover for EFA areas. The crop can then be used once the greening period has passed.
A catch crop will also mop up any available nutrients, returning them to the soil via the manure of grazing animals. This helps to improve soil organic matter and structure.
“Catch crops bring many advantages to the mixed farm in providing a valuable feed and added benefits to the soil. They make an excellent break crop and a perfect entry back to a grass reseed in the spring.”
FORAGE CROP COMPARISONS
|Species||Sowing time||Sowing rate/ha||Growing costs/ha*||Fresh yield t/ha||Dry Matter t/ha||Crude Protein %||ME kg/DM||ME ‘000 MJ/ha|
|Forage Rape||May – August||6-7kg||£408||24-35||3.5-4||19-20||10-11||35-49.5|
*Kingshay Farming Trust
Catch crop grower guides and UK trial data 2017 are available from the Limagrain web site www.lgseeds.co.uk