The chequered flag is about to be dropped on 2015 silage season

Most weather forecasters are currently predicting pretty settled conditions right through to the middle of next week. So the coming days should give many farmers an opportunity to get on with their first cut silage making operations.

“The focus must be on making high quality forage over the coming days,” explained Provita’s Tommy Armstrong.

“A high percentage of grass swards are at the perfect stage for cutting. Yes, crops might be a bit light at the present time, given the cool conditions over recent weeks. But a large tonnage in the pit should not be the core objective for farmers at this stage of 2015.

“Most producers have a fair bit of silage from last year. And, given these circumstances, the real challenge is that of making high quality forages that will drive milk and beef performance levels next winter.”

Significantly, those farmers who took the opportunity of making silage at the start of the Balmoral Show week are confirming that the effort was well worth making. John Beckett, who milks 130 cows near Donaghcloney, is a case in point.

“We cut the grass on Tuesday May 12th and ensiled it twenty fours later,” he said.

“I would be pretty confident that the swards were cut at the right time and that we will get a good fermentation in the silo.”

John also uses Provita Advance+ inoculant on all his silage crops.

“We took this approach for the first time last year and we got an excellent fermentation on each occasion,” he added.

“It’s a routine that we will be following again throughout 2015.”

Mark Gilliland, from the Fane Valley store in Banbridge confirmed that sales of Advance+ are taking off, on the back of the very positive response farmers are getting from the product.

“Given the decent weather forecast for the next few days, I am expecting demand levels for the inoculant to increase again,” he said.

Meanwhile, grass testing carried out by Provita on a daily basis is providing farmers with unique insights as to when they should cut swards, with the greatest expectation of making high quality silages.

“We test for Nitrogen, sugar and dry matter levels,” explained Tommy Armstrong.

“And it really is a case of what a difference a few days can make. On the Tuesday of Balmoral Show week, most grass samples taken had a dry matter content of around 20%, increasing to 25% and 30% after respective 12-hour and 24-hour wilts. The strong wind earlier in the week had dried out the grass and ground surprisingly quickly.

“I was able to determine this by walking several fields on several farms. I would encourage farmers to do this on their own farms.”

“Sugar levels at that stage were ranging from 3.5% to 4.0% in fresh grass samples. This figure will be three to four times higher on a dry matter basis. The drying conditions of the week in question had also led to a reduction in nitrate levels, thereby lowering anticipated ammonia levels in these silages.”

He added:

In total contrast, grass samples taken during the first week of May were low in terms of their dry matters. Sugar contents were hardly registering and nitrate levels were quite high.”

Provita is offering farmers a free grass testing service.

Tommy Armstrong again:

“We are using AFBI to carry out the required analysis service. The test results will be back with farmers within 24 hours of the test being taken. We will also test for protein and energy on farms where we are doing mini silo tests.

“The weather for the week ahead is forecast to be generally good. But weather conditions can change quite quickly and dramatically on a localised basis.”

Armstrong concluded:

“Ultimately, weather will have the biggest influence on forage quality, however good management and the use of an inoculant that has been fully designed and tested in Northern Ireland’s conditions, such as Provita Advance+ will also help.”