Farm Ireland

Thursday 13 December 2018

10 steps to cheaper silage - Rising diesel prices mean higher silage bills, but bulk buying and planning ahead can help cut costs


Plan ahead to cut your silage costs
Plan ahead to cut your silage costs
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

Machines all over the country are on the move with the 2018 first cut silage campaign now in full swing. It's an exciting time of year and after a slow start, grass now looks to be in plentiful supply. However, silage-making is a notoriously expensive job for farmers. An unexpected downpour of rain leading to botched quality silage, or a mower getting banjaxed thanks to a "UFO" (unidentified field object), are just some examples of what can go wrong.

Much has also been written about the rising price of diesel this year compared to last, and at least part of that cost will be passed to farmers. But is there anything that can be done to negate the rising cost of silage-making? We've come up with the following ten suggestions for a healthier looking silage bill.

1 Take a walk

There can be no excuse for not making it your business to walk every acre to be mown before allowing a contractor onto the land. This really is in your own interests. Many contractors are using self-propelled mowers and harvesters worth north of €250,000 plus the VAT. The last thing you want on your farm is an expensive breakdown caused by running into trouble on your watch. Warn contractors and their staff of hazards they may encounter on your farm. You may have the same contractor every year but don't assume they will remember the place well enough from a safety point of view because drivers change year in, year out.

2 Don't be mean, treat them keen

Let there be no doubt that contractors and their weary drivers certainly appreciate a meal if they are working long hours and days. The tradition of bringing a contractor and his team into the kitchen for "spuds" seems to have all but vanished. It doesn't take a big stretch of the imagination to see how, when it comes to writing the cheque, the well-fed and watered contractor will be more inclined to negotiate. But is it a dying tradition? Contractors say it is, and that often it is the smaller farmer who tends to offer a meal.

3 Have help at hand for the pit

For pit silage, be sure to have plenty of hands assembled in order to get the pit covered quickly and efficiently. There is nothing more annoying for a contractor than to have to spend hours covering the pit while the next farmer customer is anxiously waiting for the team to arrive before the weather breaks. So plan ahead, have the cover unfolded and all tyres ready to be placed. Ask your relations or neighbours to help out and return the favour if possible.

4 Prompt payment pays

Every contractor's favourite customer is the farmer who insists on paying "going out the gate". Not everyone can afford to do this, but if you can it's often very worthwhile because most contractors offer a discount for prompt payment. It is often possible to knock €10-€15 an acre off the average silage quote if the farmer pays the contractor at the gate. If you have 50 acres of silage charged at €110 an acre, that comes to a €750 saving. The contractor benefits as well because it keeps an amount of early cash flowing in to meet his staff, fuel, maintenance and insurance bills.

For baled silage, two ways to lower the bill are to reduce the number of bales made per acre by wilting the grass properly, and to produce denser bales.
For baled silage, two ways to lower the bill are to reduce the number of bales made per acre by wilting the grass properly, and to produce denser bales.

5 Plan ahead for additives

Additives are not used as much anymore, with many farmers opting to wilt instead. If you're using one, a bit of advance planning is needed - whether it is getting the grass tested for sugars, or ordering, collecting and having it delivered. Some of the powder type additives have to be mixed in water and left for a day before they are ready for use. The barrels should be transported to the fields and left so that they are easy to load onto the harvester. Having the contractor sitting waiting for the additive to arrive will lead to hefty charge for wasted time.

6 Set up a "drive-through"

Plenty of space is needed around the yard while the pit is being made. Where new facilities are being planned, leave ample room for working in front of silage pits; 12-15m between silage pits and sheds. The silage-making process will be more efficient and safer if the loader operator has room to keep going while tractors and trailers are coming and going. The ideal is to have a drive-through system with no reversing to slow things down or get in the way of the loader. Needless to say, milking time should not hinder the activity.

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7 Get the basics right

Before cutting silage, ensure effluent tanks are empty. Clean effluent channels and make sure pipes leading to tanks are clear. Check the pit base and walls to see that they are structurally sound and clean the pit base to avoid costly contamination of forage. When the pit is covered make sure effluent is trapped by the channels, under the polythene, and all clean water off the polythene is directed away in the clean water drainage system.

8 Less is more

For baled silage, two ways to lower the bill are to reduce the number of bales made per acre by wilting the grass properly, and to produce denser bales. Research at Teagasc (see table 1) has proven that fewer but denser wilted bales reduce the costs of baling, plastic wrap and transport, all of which will lower your contractor's bill when the job is done. This approach also results in well-formed, solid bales that better retain their shape during storage.

9 Buy in bulk

If you are supplying your own bale wrap (as opposed to the contractor supplying it), a good idea is to form a buyers group with a few other farmers in your area. A group of ten farmers have much more clout ordering from the local co-op than you can ever expect to have on your own.

10 Never short change on farm safety

Last but certainly not least, never cut corners when it comes to farm safety. This is a classic case of false economy because it could end up costing you your life. The months of May and June are statistically the most dangerous months on the farm. Silage-making machinery has been implicated in lots of farm deaths over the past ten years so there can be no excuses for things like damaged PTO shafts, shoddy trailer lights and untrained drivers.

For baled silage, two ways to lower the bill are to reduce the number of bales made per acre by wilting the grass properly, and to produce denser bales.

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