Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Ten ways to slash costs of your silage production

Kickstart your savings by walking the farm

For baled silage, two ways to lower the bill are to reduce the number of bales made per acre by wilting the grass properly, or increasing bale density
For baled silage, two ways to lower the bill are to reduce the number of bales made per acre by wilting the grass properly, or increasing bale density
LINED UP: Silage harvesters are getting ready to roll right across the country
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

Machines all over the country are set to roar into action in the coming weeks with the 2014 silage campaign kicking off in earnest. It's an exciting time of year and, thankfully, unlike last year, grass looks to be in plentiful supply.

Silage making, however, is a notoriously expensive job for farmers.

An unexpected downpour of rain leading to botched quality silage, or a mower packing it in thanks to a 'UFO' (unidentified field object), are two examples of what can go wrong, and where added expense creeps in. So before a contractor mows that first field, we have come up with 10 ways to shave money off your silage making bill.

1.Take a walk

There is no excuse for not walking every acre to be mown before allowing a contractor onto your land.

This really is in your own interests. These days many contractors are using self-propelled mowers and harvesters worth north of €300,000.

The last thing you want is an expensive breakdown caused by machines running into trouble on your land.

Warn contractors and their staff of hazards they may encounter, even if you have the same contractor every year.

Also Read

Drivers change year in, year out, so don't assume they will remember your place's safety and other details.

2. Keep them fed

Contractors and their weary drivers certainly appreciate a decent meal when they are working long hours. However, the tradition of bringing a contractor and his team into the kitchen for a 'drill of spuds' seems to have all but vanished.

It is strange that this tradition is dying in some quarters because it doesn't take a big stretch of the imagination to figure out that the well-fed contractor will be more inclined to negotiate when it comes to writing the cheque.

"I find it's usually the smaller farmers who will come out and offer the big dinner to the lads," one contractor told me recently.

"You'd be lucky to get a choc-ice off of some of the big farmers. Being given the dinner is certainly something I would factor in to the final bill."

3. Have help at hand for the pit

For pit silage, be sure to have plenty of hands assembled 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 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 is often very worthwhile because most contractors offer a discount for prompt payment.

It is often possible to knock €10-15/ac off the average silage quote if the farmer pays the contractor at the gate. If you have 50ac of silage charged at €110 an acre, that comes to a €750 saving.

The contractor benefits as well because it keeps cash flowing in to meet his staff, fuel, maintenance and insurance bills.

5. Plan ahead for additives

Additives are not used as much anymore, with many farmers opting to wilt instead. If you are using an additive, a bit of advance planning is needed.

This may involve getting the grass tested for sugars, or ordering, collecting and having the additive 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 a 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 - for example, a minimum of 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. Milking time should not hinder the activity.

7. Get the basics right

Before cutting silage, ensure effluent tanks are empty. Clean the 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 through wilting or producing denser bales.

Research at Teagasc has proven that fewer but denser wilted bales reduce the costs of baling, plastic wrap and transport. This will lower the contractor's bill (see table 1).

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 or pit cover (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.

10. Don't short change on safety

Last but certainly not least, never cut 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.

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 10 years so there can be no excuses for things like damaged PTO shafts, shoddy trailer lights and untrained drivers.

Indo Farming