Spring wholecrop offers greater choice and flexibility for farmers

With many farmers considering how to adapt rotations in light of a challenging maize harvest and the autumn sowing window closing very quickly, spring sown wholecrop could be an effective option on many farms.

The results of our major new Biotal trial at Harper Adams are beginning to demonstrate the huge potential of spring cereals for fermented wholecrop. This, combined with tremendous flexibility, means the crop can fill a valuable gap in forage plans while getting rotations back on track.

The delayed maize harvest, coupled with heavy rain in early November, has meant that in many parts of the country it has not been possible to progress with establishing autumn crops.

The aim should be to look at spring sown alternatives which will yield quality forage while allowing the usual rotation to be re-established.

Fermented wholecrops are well known to provide greater forage flexibility, allowing for a range of cutting dates to influence the type of feed produced, but we now know spring crops can offer a viable alternative.

In trials, spring crops have been producing in the region of 12 tonnes(t) dry matter (DM)/hectare (ha), which is equivalent to a three cut grass system. The graph shows DM yields per hectare and DM content of a variety of crop combinations, clearly demonstrating the potential of spring grown crops.  

At 35%+ DM, spring wholecrops are an ideal forage to feed with lower DM grass silages and provide an excellent complement for high protein red clover forages. The rumen friendly starch is unprocessed in fermented crops and has structural, highly digestible fibre to help promote good rumen health.


Spring crops also allow more choice over the type of forage grown. Bi-cropping with barley, wheat or triticale sown with a protein crop such as peas or lupins will not only yield well, but will also increase the protein content in the forage from around 9% to 13% - an increase of 50%.

In addition, bi-cropping can provide valuable nitrogen in the soil through nitrogen fixing legumes, giving a benefit to the following crop or allowing a reduction in fertiliser use.

Spring wholecrop can also be used as a means of establishing a new grass ley. Cereals can be under sown with a grass ley, clover or lucerne, allowing a silage cut in early July with the ley either being grazed in late season or cut for silage.

Wholecrop will also be harvested in good conditions, giving the opportunity for a break crop or the early establishment of a grass ley.

Where farmers are looking to get the rotation back on track following the challenging maize season, spring grown wholecrop is worth serious consideration as it is suited to many different systems and approaches. 


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