Optimise grassland management and reduce costs

The financial situation within dairy farming remains precarious and in the light of overflowing wheat silos and saturated meat and milk markets there is no end in sight to this predicament. With this in mind it is even more important to cut costs – but only in the right places.

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"With greater focus on dairy farming, efficient grassland management grassland management should be seen as an important factor in sustainably lowering staple feed costs", is the opinion of Imke Hansing, Crop Production Crop Production consultant at AGRAVIS Raiffeisen AG. An increase in the yield structures from grassland can only be ensured by continually maintaining the sward. Staple feed costs are between 10–15 cents on average for every kilogram of ECM (energy corrected milk). In this case a target value of 4,500 kilograms of milk (10,000 kilograms of annual output) should be achieved from the staple feed. Approximately 45 per cent must be gained from the staple feed to achieve this objective. "Considering that a lactating cow eats approximately 20 kilograms of grass silage per day, feed costs for grass silage are approximately €1.10 per cow, per day. That is reason enough to try to lower costs in this area", said Imke Hansing.

Intensive management and regular maintenance

How is increased efficiency possible within grassland management? "Through intensive management on the one hand, and regular maintenance on the other", stated the expert. Re-mowing, crop protection, and in particular re-sowing are part of regular maintenance alongside rolling, combing, and dragging: "To achieve good stock with a proportion of more than 80 per cent of high-quality grasses, the grasslands must be reseeded annually." Stocks must be regularly topped up to close gaps, suppress grass weeds and weeds and, in doing so, ensuring yield and quality.

Prevention is better than cure

"Continuity is a decisive matter in this case. Those who only act when there are weak spots and losses in output are acting too late", said Imke Hansing. Just as in other sectors, the same applies to grassland management – it is easier to prevent than to cure. Those who save money on grassland management during these times will affect their output in the form of yield and in quality. If the sward is supplemented annually with 5 to 10 kilograms of seed in a reseeding process, the energy content of the grass silage can be increased in the long term by 0.3 to 0.5 MJ NEL with ongoing maintenance. The dry matter intake of a cow increases by more than 1 kilogram per day when increasing the energy content of grass silage by more than 1 MJ NEL. If this approximate figure is used in a rough calculation, frequent re-seeding would lead to increased output of up to 490 litres per cow and lactation (305 days). On the other hand, the costs of regular reseeding are 45 to 50 euros.

The AGRAVIS Plantinum Programme

When selecting the grass mixture, the suitability of the site and the usage conditions of the mixtures should also be borne in mind alongside the certification. For intensively used grassland the Plantinum Programme Plantinum Programme from AGRAVIS Raiffeisen AG offers a suitable re-seeding mixture for every location. Further information on this topic can also be found at www.beste-milch-von-anfang-an.de www.beste-milch-von-anfang-an.de .

"Alongside re-seeding, fertiliser plays a decisive part in the increased output of grassland", said Imke Hansing. Nutrient supply of high-output grasses generally occurs in the form of dosing organic fertilisers such as cattle slurry and/or biogas slurry as well as the application of mineral fertilisers. Basic nutrition is generally provided by agricultural fertilisers, which should be applied in spring after the end of the waiting period as soon as the ground can be driven on.

No more blind fertilising!

"It is advisable to analyse a manure sample before application. Many companies deviate from standard guidelines with regard to their manure compositions. This means fertilising is done blindly and there is a risk of a fall in yield", advises AGRAVIS. When looking at the manure analysis, it should be borne in mind that potassium and phosphorus can be calculated as being close to 100 per cent effective, whilst nitrogen, on the other hand, is only about 50 per cent available in a form that can be used by plants (ammonium).

The other half of nitrogen is organically bound and can only be taken in by the crops after mineralisation processes during the growing period. An additional proportion also contributes to creating organic substance and increases the mineralisation potential of a site that has been organically fertilised for a long period of time. For sustainable, efficient nitrogen use, low-loss application technology that is close to the ground should be used for application in addition to suitable weather conditions.

Foundation of plant nutrition

Based on organic fertilising, the remaining nutrient requirements are covered by applying mineral fertiliser. The nutrient requirements can be derived from the expected yield and the revealed nutrient contents of the soil investigation which should be carried out at regular intervals. A maintenance fertilising strategy based on supply level C should be the aim. The soil investigation also shows the pH value of the grassland soil. The basis of crop nutrition is controlled via adding lime in accordance with the type of soil. Here, it should also be taken into account that increasing intensities and the use of acidifying N fertilisers such as SSA or ASS can lead to annual lime losses of 300 to 400 kilograms of calcium oxide per hectare. Generally, dosing calcium ammonium nitrate covers the additional nitrogen requirement in line with expected yields.

Sulphur content of the air has fallen drastically

"In practice, further elementary nutrients such as sulphur and potassium are often not available to crops in sufficient quantities at the start of the vegetation cycle." Due to emissions regulations becoming more stringent, the sulphur content in the air has fallen drastically over the last few years. As a consequence, the natural occurrence of sulphur in the soil has petered out. In addition, organically-bound sulphur is not yet available to crops at the start of the vegetation cycle at cool soil temperatures. The combined dosage of sulphur-containing nitrogen fertilisers in spring helps to overcome this shortfall in supply. "Sulphur is essential for protein synthesis and also increases nitrogen efficiency", stated Imke Hansing. In case of intensive management, the high falls in potash levels should also be considered. Particularly in lighter soils, a deficiency can quickly arise due to nutrients being stored in deeper soil layers. For optimal yield productivity, good quality and efficient use of water, partial quantities of potassium should be applied in a targeted manner.

Lowering costs through investment sounds rather contradictory at first. However, it is possible to increase grassland efficiency through more intensive management and maintenance, and to lower staple feed costs in the process. Two of the largest costs here are the frequent re-seeding with suitable, certified seed and balanced nutrition.

Further information on the topic of grassland fertilising and grassland maintenance can be obtained from Imke Hansing in the Crop Production consultation team at AGRAVIS Raiffeisen AG, Tel.: +49 (0) 170 1851120, imke.hansing@agravis.de.