Embracing the benefits of wholecrop

This season most winter cereal crops look to have good potential and we have seen an increased interest in fermented wholecrop as farmers look to meet their forage requirements. Many existing growers have increased their area grown, whilst others are new to the crop.

Wholecrop offers some significant benefits for dairy and beef producers looking to achieve a consistent, lower cost base. Capable of being grown across virtually the whole country, it provides an opportunity for more farmers to grow a second, or third forage and so benefit from the positive impact this can have on intakes and rumen health.

By growing an additional crop you can spread the risk and be less affected if harvest conditions are inclement or if another crop fails. Risk management is a principal strategy used by most industries to achieve less volatile costs and one which we are increasingly seeing applied on farm.

Finally, the choice of crops and the range of harvesting conditions mean the quality of the feed produced can be manipulated to better complement other forages.

We are now entering the major decision time for wholecrop growers on how best to utilize their crop.

This year's crop

The key decision is when to harvest. While other forages have relatively short harvest windows, wholecrop can be harvested over an extended period as the crop matures, moving from a lower starch, higher digestible fibre feed to a more starchy feed with lower digestible fibre. This allows you to decide when to harvest to ensure the wholecrop complements other forages available.


D Value (%)

Starch (%)

NDF (%)























When deciding on cutting dates, consider:

  • What is your first cut quality like? Get the first cut analysed now so you know what you are trying to balance.
  • How much silage was carried over? Of what quality?
  • The condition of your maize (if you have it).


Use this information to decide if you need a starchy or a more fibrous feed and plan cutting dates to deliver what you need. Speak to your contractor well in advance so he knows what you are planning.

Decisions for next year

Rotations for 2018 will soon start to be put together so now is the time to decide how best to include wholecrop. While usually seen as a way to preserve winter wheat, the truth is that a wide range of cereals, both winter and spring sown, are suitable for growing as fermented wholecrop.  Hybrid rye, which has been associated as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion, is increasingly finding a place on livestock units as a low cost, easy to grow wholecrop. The key thing is to choose the crop that best suits your rotation and soil type.

In addition to sowing season, choice extends to the type of crop. We are seeing growth in bi-cropping -  cereals sown with legumes to increase the protein content of the feed produced, while also helping increase soil fertility by fixing nitrogen. And wholecrop can be undersown, easing the transition into a subsequent grass ley.

This all means that wholecrop can be integrated into almost all dairy and beef farm systems and produce a valuable feed.

Trial results show each of the crop options can produce a high quality forage, making it easier to select the crop most suited to your circumstances.

With the focus firmly on achieving robust and consistent costs of production, unleashing the potential of wholecrop will see more producers growing the feed and realising the benefits available. 

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