From getting the basics right on mowing to laying on a meal, Derek Casey looks at how farmers can cut the costs of their 2020 silage-making bills
Machines all over the country are roaring into action with the 2020 silage campaign kicking off.
An unexpected downpour of rain leading to botched quality silage, poor wilting practice, or a harvester breakdown thanks to a 'UFO' (unidentified field object), are just three examples of what can go wrong to push up your silage making bill.
Ahead of your local contractor mowing that first field, we've come up with the following eight ways to keep your silage making bill as low as possible.
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 on to the land. This really is in your own interests. These days, many contractors are using self-propelled mowers and harvesters worth north of €400,000. 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. Contractors have in the past reported taking everything from fencing posts to whole gates into their machinery. The potential damage is huge.
2 Provide a meal
Contractors and their weary drivers certainly appreciate a meal if they are working long hours and days.
When it comes to writing the cheque, the well-fed contractor will be more inclined to negotiate. The tradition of providing a meal for a contractor and his/her team is a proud one in Ireland and hopefully we will see it again in the future.
Unfortunately though, restrictions have to be respected this year. If, as a farmer, you want to pay for lunch for the contracting team, there are ways of doing it that are safer and allow you to respect the social distancing guidelines set out by the HSE.
A scenario where eight to 10 people from various households are sitting indoors around a table at close quarters is asking for trouble.
Consider the situation where someone is in the asymptomatic or 'latent' spell of the virus - that is to say, a person has the virus (and can spread it), but doesn't yet know it.
So if feeding the team, eat outdoors in a well-ventilated area with two metres of space between people. Have plenty of soap and water at the ready for hands to be washed.
3 Prompt payment
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 is often very worthwhile because most contractors offer a discount for prompt payment. It is often possible to knock €10 an acre off the quoted price if the farmer pays the contractor promptly.
This is turning into a difficult year for both farmers and contractors in terms of cash flow. But contractors have big machine repayments to make, staff to pay, insurance to think about and diesel bills of up to €1,500 a day to meet during the silage season.
Getting paid on time is really important to their survival.
4 Plan ahead for additives
Additives are not used as much anymore, with many farmers opting to wilt instead. If you are 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 on to the harvester.
Having the contractor sitting waiting for the additive to arrive will lead to added charges for down time.
5 Get mowing basics right
If possible, aim to mow when grass is dry in the afternoon. This is also when sugars are highest.
Monitor the weather forecasts with a good app on your phone and try to notify your silage contractor in plenty of time. It can be an extremely busy and stressful time for all concerned. Waiting until the dew has evaporated before mowing will help with the wilt.
Aim for a wilt of 24 -36 hours to improve preservation and reduce effluent production. It also has the added benefits of reducing the number of bales per acre thus reducing costs. If the grass crop is heavy or drying conditions limited, use the spreading/tedding option. Spreading maximises the quantity of grass exposed to the sun and air.
6 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 with greater percentage dry matter digestibility.
Research at Teagasc Grange (see table left) has proven that fewer but denser wilted bales reduce the costs of baling, plastic wrap and transport - all of which will lower the bill your contractor hands you when the job is done. This approach also results in well-formed, solid bales that better retain their shape during storage.
7 Buy in bulk
For making bales, 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 10 farmers have much more clout ordering from the local co-op than you can ever expect to have on your own.
8 Don't cut corners on safety
I mentioned this last week, but the message bears repeating. Form a daily habit of never cutting corners when it comes to farm safety. This is a classic case of false economy because in the end, it could cost you your life.
Silage making machinery has been implicated in lots of farm deaths over the past 10 years, so there can be no excuses for things like damaged PTO shafts on mowers or trailer indicator and brake lights that aren't checked daily.