Greater grassland productivity offers brighter future for livestock farmers

Grassland production could be doubled
Grassland production could be doubled

Doubling dry matter production from grassland through improved use of currently available technology and resources is a realistic target for a large majority of local livestock farmers.

So says William Gilbert, managing director of forage experts Germinal, adding that any increase in output from grassland, whether grazed or conserved, would improve enterprise profitability and sustainability, as grass is undisputedly the cheapest feed source available.

“We know that the top performers amongst UK livestock farms are achieving 15 tonnes of dry matter per hectare and higher from regularly reseeded, well-managed swards.”

William Gilbert Managing director, Germinal

“We know that the top performers amongst UK livestock farms are achieving 15 tonnes of dry matter per hectare and higher from regularly reseeded, well-managed swards,” he said, “yet the average figure quoted in the latest Farm Management Pocketbook is just 7.6tDM/ha.

“This shows that a majority of livestock farms are falling well below their potential, with the lost grassland production forcing higher use of far more expensive feeds.

“Germinal sees a yawning gap between current performance from grassland and the realistic potential. Our aim is to help more livestock farmers grasp the opportunity to make their businesses more profitable.”

Mr Gilbert was speaking in December as Germinal launched its new brand identity, a move that will herald a number of initiatives from the company, all aimed at improving efficiency across the livestock sector through maximising production from forage.

“We see our role as extending a long way beyond the supply of quality forage seeds,” he said. “Innovation, expertise and the sharing of essential knowledge will feature more and more in Germinal’s future support of the farming industry. Grassland production is the area where we expect to make the biggest difference.”

Using the dairy sector as a specific example, Mr Gilbert pointed out that average milk from forage in recorded herds was typically around 2,000 litres/cow, just half that achieved by the top 10% of herds.

“It is not a coincidence that the top performing herds are also the ones making most milk from forage,” he said.

“Grazed grass and conserved grass silage always work out substantially cheaper than bought-in concentrate feeds, whatever the costing method. The opportunity for dairy farmers, and also beef and sheep farmers, is to grow more grass of better quality, and utilise it more effectively. This will increase the proportion of milk or meat produced from the cheapest feed, and that will result in higher margins.

“A good starting point for many will be to increase the rate of reseeding, which is currently on average far lower than is required to maintain swards at their highest level of productivity. Then it is about improving soils where necessary, selecting the best available mixtures, establishing new leys well, and managing them effectively.

“In an industry currently faced with low output prices, and a future of inevitable volatility, increasing efficiency of production is of paramount importance. The solution is growing under our feet.”