Ten ways to improve your silage harvest
Teagasc expert Padraig O’Kiely has decades of experience in the science of silage — here’s his step-by-step guide to improving your silage harvest
1 Soil fertility
This is the single biggest factor in determining both the yield and quality of the silage you are going to make any year. Data shows that 90pc of the grassland on Irish farms is trying to grow in sub-optimal conditions. This will not only curtail the overall yield, but also the earliness of a suitable bulk to warrant calling the contractor. That extra week or fortnight can often be the difference between a crop that is cut before it gets too stemmy, and one that's after losing huge amounts of digestibility. Soil fertility indices of three should be the minimum target for every farmer serious about maximising grass growth. Don't forget that you need to keep soil pH at a minimum of 6.3 to allow the fertiliser to have maximum effect.
The second most important influence on a silage harvest is the type of sward producing the grass. Old or unproductive swards lose out on several fronts. First of all, they give you less output per euro of fertilizer. But they also really suffer by not getting going as early in the spring -and growing on as late in the autumn- as a vigorous ryegrass. Most importantly from a silage-making perspective, though, is that ryegrasses have a much higher content of sugars than other grasses, so they are inherently much easier to successfully preserve as silage.
Many farmers are choosing to reseed in mid summer now to take advantage of the longest days, with a target turn-around of a paddock from last grazing to first reseed grazing in just 42 days.
The aftermath of the wet summer of 2012 convinced many farmers looking at expansion of the merits of increasing the amount of drainage work.