We are (hopefully) coming out of one of the most prolonged wet periods that most of us have ever experienced and normal winter cereal sowings are down by 65% to 85% in many parts of the country. This will, almost certainly, result in strong winter wheat prices in the coming year as well as disruption to cropping rotations into 2021.
Many will be reluctant to opt for sowing spring cereals due to their later harvesting date, but, if spring-sown crops are harvested for crimping, they will be off the fields three to four weeks earlier than if combined dry. Harvested at a grain moisture content between 25% and 40%, processed through a crimping machine, treated with the preservative CrimpSafe 300 and ensiled, crimped cereals are the most cost-effective way of producing a high-energy concentrate feed for milking cows, growing and finishing cattle and sheep. Spring barley, wheat, triticale, rye and oats are all suitable for crimping and are easily traded between farms. An added advantage, particularly in a year when it is likely to be in short supply, is that the yield of straw from crops harvested for crimping is likely to be higher and of better quality than conventionally harvested straw.
Crimped cereals also make an excellent feedstock for biogas production, giving high yields of methane per kilo of dry matter (DM). This, together with the earlier harvest, will help those arable farmers in areas where there are lower livestock numbers and land is currently lying fallow. Harvesting at the crimping stage has been shown to remove a high proportion of blackgrass seed from the field, and this seed is rendered unviable by the crimping process – an additional opportunity to gain some income from the land and help to reduce the blackgrass problem.
Crimped grain maize
The projected shortfall in feed wheat will mean that livestock farmers will be looking for high-quality starch replacements for their rations. For growers situated in suitable parts of the UK, combining and crimping grain maize might be another option worth considering. Sourcing seed of early-maturing grain maize varieties may prove easier than finding seed for other spring cereals.
Crimped maize production in the UK peaked 10-12 years ago with several large growers and contractors, predominantly in the south and the east midlands, developing markets with livestock farmers in the north and west. However, due to the increasing demand for feedstock for anaerobic digesters putting pressure on land rent, many diversified again to meet this requirement.
Livestock farmers who were feeding crimped maize have had to look for alternative sources and many are now feeding dry grain maize imported from France. However, the benefits of utilising UK-grown, high-starch crimped maize have already been proven and many would be delighted if this was available again.
Combining maize is an option..
With increasing pressure to reduce the use of imported, and potentially genetically modified (GM), protein sources, another option to consider could be beans. Independent agronomist Steve Harrison, who covers parts of South Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and South Wales, and Simon Vaux, regional head (north) for Agrovista, both agree that spring-sown beans could be useful for many growers this year.
“Their seeds are large and vigorous,” says Mr Vaux, “can germinate from deep in the ground, and although the best results come from drilling, the traditional method of broadcasting and ploughing in, could still be used.
“Drilling would normally be carried out from February to April, but growers would need to be sure they had an outlet for the crop,” he says. “They could either opt to harvest them as whole-crop silage or combine them to produce a high protein, concentrate feed.”
“Growers need to be sure that beans fit in around their existing crop rotation,” adds Mr Harrison, “but harvesting options such as whole-cropping, crimping or rolling and treating with Propcorn NC bring the harvesting date forward far enough so that autumn drilling of winter wheat is perfectly feasible.”
As readers of KnowHow will know from previous issues, all three options for treating beans have been used successfully by many farmers.
Whole-cropping beans will produce a high-protein forage that can add structure to any ruminant ration. Harvested at 60-70% DM with a typical crude protein level of 18-20%, whole-crop beans require an effective preservative, Safesil Pro, to ensure maximum feed retention and prevent the risk of losses and mycotoxins from mould growth. Close attention to achieving good compaction in the clamp and really effective sealing is essential. Use of a SilaPactor for optimal compaction, and O2 Barrier 2in1 sheeting, protected by ClampNet and well weighted down with gravel bags or ClampTiles, to seal the clamp, will result in a palatable, rumen-friendly forage for dairy cows, growing and finishing cattle.
Alternatively, combining the beans provides the option of harvesting at a range of moisture contents, to produce a high-protein/starch concentrate for older cattle. This ensures a good chance of clearing the crop between mid-September and early-October and drilling winter wheat, which will benefit from the nitrogen fixed by the previous crop.
Beans harvested with a moisture content of 30-50% can be crimped, treated with CrimpSafe 300 and mixed with a moist feed such as brewers grains or draff, and ensiled. The added moist feed helps to ensure better compaction of the large, crimped beans, eliminating the risk of air pockets in the clamp. As with any ensiled feed, effective sealing and clamp management is essential to produce a first-class end product.
Flooded and waterlogged fields have become a familiar sight across the UK this winter.
Typical analysis of crimped beans/brewers grains mix (on dry matter basis)
Crude protein (%)
ME (MJ/kg DM)
Dry matter (%)
If a dry, weather-proof grain store is available some growers may consider harvesting at a lower moisture content (below 25%) and storing aerobically using Propcorn NC, the modern, non-corrosive and low-fuming alternative to straight propionic acid. Suitable for treating whole or rolled cereals and pulses, this approach eliminates the need for expensive drying and produces a readily saleable product.