Farm-to-farm trading is expected to be a much greater feature of this year’s harvest than has been seen in the past and stands to benefit both livestock and arable producers.
The practice is being encouraged by specialists in feed and forage preservation, who say it offers the scope for poor crops, which have been damaged by this summer’s drought, to realise a greater margin for arable farmers. At the same time, it could bolster forage stocks for livestock producers, many of whom have already eaten into this winter’s feed.
Michael Carpenter, northern area manager for Kelvin Cave Ltd, says many arable producers have combinable crops which haven’t reached viable yields but which would be worthwhile harvested as wholecrop silage.
“In some cases, we have found certain crops will make higher margins as silage than if harvested through the combine for their original use,” he says.
This has been the case, for example, on Pollington Grange, near Goole in Yorkshire, where arable farmer, Tom Bayston, made the decision this year to ditch the combine and make wholecrop silage from his spring beans.
Mr Bayston preserved the silage with a salts-based additive, bagged it in polythene tubes and is selling it to livestock farmers for use in animal rations.
Describing this year’s crop of spring beans as the worst he has grown on his 1,000 acre (405ha) farm, he says he is confident it will earn a higher margin as wholecrop than as combined beans, which were originally destined for human consumption.
On a farm on which he normally grows combinable crops, potatoes, carrots and vining peas, he says he is now considering adding wholecrop beans to his regular rotation.
From a nutritional perspective, Mr Carpenter says bean silage has numerous advantages for livestock producers.
“It brings physical structure to a ration and is also a great source of protein and starch, potentially displacing a more expensive and often imported protein source,” he says. “Analysis of wholecrop bean silage recently made in the north of England has typically been around 70 per cent dry matter and 19 per cent protein.”
Mr Bayston, who is also NFU Council delegate for the West Riding, says he appreciates what the livestock sector is facing after a severe spring followed by flooding and then the summer drought.
“I’m happy to be able to provide some extra forage this year, but from a broader perspective, feel we need to grow more feed in this country for farming to be more sustainable and less reliant on imports,” he says.
Both Mr Carpenter and Mr Bayston have urged livestock farmers looking for extra forage to approach arable producers who may still have spring bean crops yet to be harvested.
“It’s worth having that conversation with your neighbours as no one else is going to suggest it,” says Mr Carpenter. “There’s nothing in it for the supply trade or anyone in the industry except farmers themselves, so I would urge them to take the initiative and make the first approach.
“Farm-to-farm trading should certainly be encouraged as it helps keep the supply chain short, it reduces food miles and costs of production and – with no intermediary involved – it ultimately helps keep more profits on the farm,” he says.
Tom Bayston and Michael Carpenter, standing in the newly harvested bean stubble