Welsh dairy farmers have proved that it is possible to achieve a 100% return on the cost of growing grass.

Welsh dairy farmers have proved that it is possible to achieve a 100% return on the cost of growing grass.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The three-year Grass Value study, a key element of the Improving the Welsh Dairy Supply Chain initiative, has shown that pasture is worth £197 tonne/dry matter - £100 t/DM less than it costs to grow.

The best paddocks even managed to produce grass for as little as £40/tonne - by growing 15.2 t DM/ha.

John Owen, who led the study, says the results have exciting implications for farmers in Wales, a country known for its ability to grow grass well.

He believes all but the highest yielding herds have the potential to exploit well-managed grazed grass. “Many herds with yields of up to 9,000 litres per cow achieve a proportion of their yield from forage, with a good share of this from grazing. With the right infrastructure and effective management, grazed grass can replace more expensive conserved forages without compromising yield, leading to increases in herd profitability.’’

A key finding of the European and Welsh government-funded study was that simply growing large quantities of grass was not at the heart of profitability – that grass had to be managed well.

Of the 12 project farms that utilised nearly 13 t DM/ha, a net margin per hectare of £2,250 was achieved. In contrast, the margin of the farms that utilised less than 6 t DM/ha dipped under £1,500.

Overall, all farms out-performed the highest performing DairyCo Milkbench farms on profit by retaining 31% of their output over the three-year period. In 2013, the retained profit percentage for the top 25% DairyCo Milkbench farms was 22%.

Mr Owen says that the study showed that grass needed to be grown and utilised efficiently. There was a strong correlation between the farms that grew the most grass and those that utilised it.

In monetary terms, the difference between the best and the worst paddocks amounted to £404/ha.

It is also possible for organic farms to grow grass as well as conventional systems. The best organic paddock produced as much grass as the 10.9 t DM/ha average of the conventionally farmed paddocks.

The Grass Value study had set out to identify best practice on high performing dairy farms and to use the findings to recommend methods for improving grassland management and utilisation.

Ten conventional and two organic farms were monitored. Mr Owen and a team of recorders took 40,000 field grass cover measurements by walking approximately 6,000 miles.

Average annual rainfall on these farms over the three years was 1,070 mm (43 inches) and the farms were grazed for an average of 37 weeks.

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