Thursday 20 August 2009

Grass comes free, or does it?

The grey cells are working overtime, mental exhaustion will soon kick in..... I was thinking (which is always dangerous!). To many whom are not in the know it may be easy to conclude that farms have grass, which grows in fields, which is a natural process and therefore must be a cost free commodity - seems logical to me when I think of it along those lines.

If only life were so simple. Still on the hay and silage vein I'll concentrate on that for now. It would be far too complicated for me at the moment to discuss grassland in general.

If you have a lawn then undoubtedly you'll find you have to cut the grass, whether with and electric or petrol lawnmower the fuel is a cost. Breakages? Has that lawnmower ever coughed, hiccuped then died? Do you repair or upgrade? Second hand or new? More cost - similar problems facing the farmer and his hay machinery, slightly different costs considering a tractor suitable for all the jobs required on a hill farm will probably set you back forty grand (the cheaper end of tractors due to them being smaller models), a big round baler can be acquired at half the price of the tractor. One farmer told me recently the baler would have to kick out 16,000 bales before it paid for itself (I'll take his word for that, mathematics is not a strong point of mine unless I'm counting sheep).

Back to your lawn. Maybe you don't have a lawnmower, preferring to hire a gardener and his gear to do the job. Farmers have the same options. A neighbour has had contractors in to bale and wrap his silage at a cost of £4.50 a bale. The wrap is bought by the farmer, at present it is £50+ per roll( it pays to shop around), with a roll averaging 27 bales, therefore working out at approx £2 per bale.

The silage bale has so far cost £6.50 to bale and wrap. The grass was cut by the farmer. His service bill for the tractor prior to hay time was over a thousand pounds, he needed fresh blades for the mower, diesel, grease, oil. The grass was turned and rowed up, tines were needed for the hay bob and yet more diesel, grease and oil. Then the bales needed lead from the field, where they were baled, to the pad where they are wrapped and stacked, a contractor charges by the hour for this as distances led vary, the farmer actually led his own but hired in another tractor and a man to operate it. The cost of that silage bale is rising.........

So, it costs money to produce a silage bale but the grass was free - wasn't it?

There is the saying 'there's nowt free in life', personally I tend to disagree, however, when it comes to grass there is a lot of truth in that saying.

Your lawn? Ever had trouble with it? moss growing killing the grass off, or maybe it just got a hammering, trampled by kids or dogs, and you found yourself down the garden centre buying bits and bobs to improve it. Similar problems face the farmer but on a far larger scale, we are talking many acres not square yards.

Hay/silage fields are the best ground on the farm. Hay/silage is what gets your livestock through the winter months, a very important crop, the quality of which reflects on the quality and health of your stock.

Being the best grazing the fields are used throughout the year. Lambs will be spaened (weaned) onto them shortly to take advantage of the new growth, ewes may be tupped in them and are often fetched into them to be lambed or they may be used for keeping ewes and twins on as the quality of grazing is better. Eventually, after lambing time they are shut down and allowed to grow into a crop. Simple really.

Except, like your lawn, the hay fields do get a hammering, they have fed many mouths and hopefully kept everything on a rising plane, they can get tired and need assistance.

Manure, both natural and man made is often required to give the field a lift, get it to produce plenty of crop through the growing season (which is a short one up here in Tarset). Obviously the livestock grazing the ground has been manuring as they go along which is a great help but more is required if that huge stash of winter fodder is to be available.

Natural manure generally comes from the cattle sheds, a by product. Cattle that are housed throughout the winter don't half produce one hell of a pile of shit (call it dung if you feel more comfortable with that). Well, that really simplifies the job, cows do what they're good at, eat the silage and dutifully pass it out the other end then it can go back on the fields, help produce more silage and so it goes......

Cattle in sheds need to be bedded up, you wouldn't like to lie in your own excrement for months would you? Neither do they, and so the farmer puts down bales of straw which soaks up all that skitter and piddle and leaves the cattle to lie comfortably whilst chewing their cuds and dreaming of spring time and fields to frolic around in.

Straw is the stalks which corn grows on, wheat, barley, oats...... which is harvested in the back end on lower running farms, the stalks, like hay and silage gets baled up and sold on to the livestock farmer for bedding.

So, we have the straw, a by product from the corn harvest. The corn men would often burn the straw/stubble on the fields which put nutrients back into the ground, there are rules and regulations now (fancy that!)and so straw is now often chopped by the combine harvester then ploughed back into the ground.

But livestock farmers need it....... Umm, ever heard of supply and demand?

The arable men face costs just like the silage men, the weather causes problems too. No one really wants bad straw, mouldy, damp stuff doesn't do the job as well (imagine damp cotton wool against dry - the absorption rate definitely varies).

Good straw becomes a highly sought after commodity and in recent years the cost of buying in straw has rocketed, last spring it was dearer to buy in than the equivalent in hay or silage, this year it is prophesised it will be worth more per ton than the crop it was carrying.

That good old farmyard manure isn't free after all, in fact it is down rightly expensive.

Man made manure is obviously going to come at a cost. Fertiliser, as it is generally known as, comes in a variety of forms. Unlike spreading muck, with fertiliser you can buy the compound which your ground requires. More potash, less nitrogen, etc. You have a number of choices to suit your particular needs. Last year saw the cost of fertiliser double, this year it had not halved (things rarely come back down in price)but risen again (albeit slightly). I have been told it probably costs £45 and acre for fertiliser (although costs will vary depending on types and quantity spread) and that you would hope to get an average of 10 bales to the acre (again size of bale comes into it)

As I said earlier mathematics are not a strong point of mine (how on earth I passed my O'level I'll never know), but even with my very limited mathematical abilities I can definitely say that grass does not come free. That bale of silage comes at a cost.

Oh! I nearly forgot (told you mental exhaustion would kick in) - rules and regulations now in force mean that the farmer has to pay to dispose of the plastic wrap, net wrap and strings which are left over after his silage has been used - yet more expense! A box of matches was a lot cheaper.


Unknown said...

I have been considering trying baleage. We do not have any devices for it as we cut haylage now. I like the concept of the combination baler/erapper that Claas and krone have to store some time to labor