How much should you be paying for silage ground?

A Teagasc survey in January revealed that 25pc of farmers nationally are currently short of silage
A Teagasc survey in January revealed that 25pc of farmers nationally are currently short of silage
Joe Kelleher

Joe Kelleher

March is often the time of year where deals are done on renting of ground for making silage, but how much can we afford to pay for this ground and when does it become too expensive?

The last fodder census carried out by Teagasc in January revealed that 25pc of farmers nationally are currently short of silage, the remaining 75pc had enough to see them to the end of the housing period, but even with this cohort of farmers, reserves could be well depleted in many yards which could result in a heated market for the renting of silage ground. But when does silage become too expensive?

To try attempt to put a cost on the making of silage from rented ground involves a huge number of variables; how much is the land rental, what is the ground quality like, is it reseeded ground or old pasture, what is the soil fertility like, how much will the contractor charge, how much fertiliser will be applied, how much will the fertiliser cost and on the lists goes.

So to make any attempt at this calculation is going to involve a lot of assumptions, so I am going to do this with two sets of assumptions.

The first set is the ideal scenario whereby high performance is achieved and the second set is probably closer to national average figures and typically of poorer performing silage fields. Both sets of assumptions are set out in table 1.

The high performing paddocks are ryegrass pastures with high ryegrass content and are on target for soil fertility. They are also free draining meaning that a mid-May cutting date is highly likely. The poor performing fields are low in soil fertility, are mostly old grasses and heavy in nature, leading to a likely cutting date of in the second week of June. This is due to the time allowed for the crop to "bulk up" and for trafficability reasons.

The high performing fields receives the recommended levels of all key nutrients, whereas the poor performing fields receive the typical three bags Cut Sward/acre for first cut and two bags/acre for the second cut. The knock on effect of this is that the high performing field is cut in mid-May with a DMD of 72pc whereas the second field is cut in mid-June with a DMD of 64pc.

Second cut

We are assuming that the second cut is cut about seven weeks later (around mid-July) on the high performing field giving a DMD of 72pc again whereas the poorer performing field is left grow for a further nine weeks (cut late August) with a DMD of 68pc.

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In energy terms, the overall end result is that the poorer performing field only has a total output of three quarters the energy of the high performing field.

What I haven't factored in here is the fact that the high performing field has six weeks longer to grow aftergrass, which should provide two extra grazings. So what does all this mean? The only way to fairly compare both situations is to analyse the cost of producing a unit of energy from each situation, and in this case this is the cost of a UFL on a cent/UFL. Table 2 shows that the cost of producing silage from the high performing field ranges from 16c to 19c (per unit of energy) depending on the rent paid per acre whereas the poor performing paddock ranges from 21c to 25c.

If we compare this to feeds such as Rolled Barley, Soya Hulls or Palm Kernel which can be purchased for around 24c/UFL (on a dry matter basis), then we can only justify higher rents where the performance is guaranteed to be top class. In all other situations, purchasing feed may be as economical.

There are, however, other factors to be considered:

  • poor quality silage will most likely need to be supplemented, thereby distorting the figures on this page
  • adequate feed space is needed when feeding meal instead of silage
  • every farmer is going to need to secure a minimum of 50pc+ of a cows diet in the form of forage

renting ground now will involve a payment in the next few months, whereas the meal purchased may not have to be paid for another 12 months.

So, how much can we afford to pay for this ground and when does it become too expensive? As you can see, there is no easy answer to this question. Every farmer has to do their own sums with their own set of assumptions before paying over the odds.

Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc advisor based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick

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