Archive: Grass values project

Published 15 August 14

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The recently published Grass Values project highlights the clear link between effective production and utilisation of grass and farm profit.

The three-year project collected detailed records from 12 project farms across Wales which already utilised grass efficiently and highlights the management policies and skills needed to take advantage of the value of grass. The full economic income and costs were evaluated on each of the farms and Milkbench+ was used to evaluate herd profitability each year.

The project demonstrated that well managed grass has a production cost of £97/t DM  and a value of £197/t DM, a 100% return on costs (see Fig 1 Forage costs and values). This compares very favourably to conserved forages.

Fig 1 Forage costs and values

Figure 1

Source: Grass Values Project 2014

Expressing the forage costs in terms of the cost to produce a litre of milk, allows the different forages, energy and protein characteristics to be taken into account (see Figure 2). On this basis, grass can be grown for 50% of the cost of conserved forages.

Fig 2 Forage production costs per litre of milk

Figure 2

Source: Grass Values Project 2014

The costs are based on the yields and utilisation of grass achieved by the farmers in this project. An average 10.4 tonnes of DM/ha was grown on the 12 project farms, while on average, 84% of grass was made use of by the cows. Milk from forage averaged 3,511 litres/cow and 10,341 litres/ha.

The feed values of forages were evaluated relative to purchased energy and protein feeds. Figure 1 shows the forage costs and values relative to purchased wheat and soya. Grazed grass, with a margin of £100/tonne, is much higher than other forages.

“But simply growing the grass does not mean it will be cheap and cost effective – it needs to be  grown and utilised efficiently,” says John Owen, who led the project. “Even within this project, which evaluated farms focused on efficient grass production and utilisation, there was a range of £109/tonne of DM in growing costs between the best and worst paddocks across all project farms.

“Managing grass to optimise yield and quality can cost more but this higher cost is more than compensated by the extra yield and lower cost per tonne. There was a clear trend which indicated that those who grew more grass per hectare and produced more milk from it have a higher net margin per hectare,” he said

One of the purposes of the Grass Values Project was to identify best practice from high performing farms in order to recommend methods for improving grassland management and utilisation. It presents key points that emerged on topics such as soil condition, turnout, mid and late season grazing and cow health.

“The wealth of grass recording and farm data has shown that for the greatest value, everything has to be right from the ground up,” John adds. “Value from grass is not just the focus of block calving, low input herds. All but the highest yielding herds have the potential to exploit well managed grass and improve herd profitability.

“The project showed that focusing on producing the optimum dry matter yield of grass/ha, combined with effective grassland management, results in high levels of grass utilisation, a good proportion of milk from forage, low feed costs and healthy profits – true value from grass,” he concludes.

For the full Grass Values report and key management points from the project click here.