Sowing a high feed value forage crop and taking a ‘cereal break’ is a win-win for mixed arable and livestock units.
Give the arable crop rotation a break and sow a forage crop this autumn. This is the advice from Limagrain’s Martin Titley, who says that better weed control and boosting home-grown feed supplies are just two of the advantages.
“Growing a forage crop on arable land post-harvest is getting more and more relevant on mixed cereal and livestock units,” he says. “It will definitely help weed control by breaking the life cycles of some damaging weeds and diseases.
“And the forage crop – and any grazing livestock – will add organic matter to the soils. This is especially valuable in nutrient depleted soils.”
Growing consecutive cereal crops is becoming more challenging. “There are issues surrounding pest and disease control in our cereal crops, and soil structure and condition warrants attention on many arable units,” he adds. “Rotations with forage crops are now far more sustainable than some of our previous arable practices.”
Forage crops, such as fast-growing brassica and root crops, and short-term grass leys can be sown post-harvest to give a much-needed break in the cereal rotation, as well as providing a valuable feed crop.
“Roots and brassicas can be grazed off ahead of a spring crop, or ahead of a grass reseed. And leaving a grass ley down for two years or more will help break the blackgrass cycle too.”
Grass and forage crops boost the soil organic matter and manure from grazing animals is slowly released which can then be used by the arable crops that follow in the rotation.
And the new forage crop varieties with improved growth and feed values add to the attractiveness of post cereal forage crops. These have been shown to promote yields, livestock growth rates and performance.
“A good example is the new rape/kale hybrid variety Unicorn that can be sown until late August. It has produced energy values of 11.2 MJ per kilo of dry matter and dry matter contents of 12.4% on our Lincolnshire trial site, making it one of the UK’s best performing rape/kale hybrid brassicas.”
A crop of stubble turnips after winter barley is ideal for finishing lambs. It’s ready for grazing by the end of October, and a hectare of stubble turnips will provide 40 days of grazing for 100 lambs. “This is ideal for farmers who are looking to sell lambs early in the season, when prices tend to be higher,” he adds.
And if we have a dry autumn, Mr Titley suggests those with mixed units look at forage rye that can be sown as late as October, following maize or cereals. “This gives an early bite in spring, up to three weeks’ ahead of Italian ryegrass.
“Yields are typically between five and six tonnes of dry matter per hectare. Some farmers will graze the crop, but it can also be cut for forage and stored, boosting conserved feed supplies.”