2017-05-17  

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High Protein Forages Cuts Bought-In Feed Costs

Growing more high protein forage crops such as clovers, perennial chicory and forage brassicas offers sheep farmers greater control over feed costs and more sustainable businesses going forward.

So said Helen Mathieu of forage experts Germinal at NSA Welsh Sheep, adding that cost control should be a priority for all sheep farmers given growing uncertainty over agricultural support and the likelihood of continued commodity price volatility.

Brassicas (such as Avon forage rape, pictured) are an example of alternative forage crops that offer good nutritional value (including protein) alongside other benefits such as break cropping and improved soil health.

Brassicas (such as Avon forage rape, pictured) are an example of alternative forage crops that offer good nutritional value (including protein) alongside other benefits such as break cropping and improved soil health.

“Forage proteins fit well with the need to reduce production costs and get more from homegrown forage,” she said. “It’s becoming far more relevant to every farming system to reduce costs across the board, particularly in the light of Brexit, and feed costs are a significant input, certainly on most lowland units.”

In addition to reduced reliance on bought-in protein sources, several alternative forage crops also offer advantages in terms of soil fertility, soil structure and pest control, she added.

“Legumes such as white and red clover can fix around 150kg of nitrogen per hectare from the air, thereby reducing the amount of artificial fertiliser required to achieve a given level of forage dry matter,” she added. “Clovers, and deep-rooted plants such as perennial chicory, also help to improve soil structure, when compared with leys that are solely comprised of grasses.

“There are now many modern forage brassica varieties that offer an excellent source of protein and can boost productivity as summer catch crops, autumn grazing or even out-wintering. These brassicas also work very effectively as break crops in grassland reseeding, helping to reduce the threat of common pests such as leatherjackets and frit fly. This is more important as chemical pest control options become more restricted.”

Ms. Mathieu said that the varying attributes and agronomy of forage proteins means farmers should make the decision on which crop to grow based on individual farm conditions and requirements.

“Look at where you can start building protein crops into a rotation if that fits with your system. When growing any crop, it’s important to pick the right field and grow it well. It’s also not just about getting the soil right, but growing enough of the crop to make sure you see the benefits in the ration.”

Germinal

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