Act fast to prevent potential feed shortage, farmers urged

Farmers in parts of Southland will run short of feed this winter if they don’t act soon to offset poor crop growth.


There is still time to grow more dry matter on-farm, however, using high yielding rape or Italian ryegrass.


Many spring-sown winter crops have suffered from delayed sowing and difficult growing conditions this season.


Yields are currently estimated to be back 15-20% overall, and in some cases much more.


Southland agronomist Shannon Morton says doing a winter feed budget will identify any potential shortfalls now.


This will also help prevent deficits later in the season, when it can become costly and stressful to remedy the situation.


Shannon, who works in the pasture systems team at Barenbrug, says baleage and hay are already in short supply.


Fortunately both rape and Italian ryegrass can still be sown for home-grown winter feed, but every day counts, so anyone who wants to take advantage of these fast growing crops needs to act promptly.


“Interval rape sown in January will typically produce 5-6 tonnes dry matter per ha for winter, and can reach 7-8 t DM/ha with good conditions.


“Alternatively, Tabu+ Italian ryegrass is very fast establishing, so it will give one to two grazings before winter, if sown early. Typically it will then provide 3-4 t DM/ha to be strip grazed in winter, holding its feed quality much better than a normal permanent pasture.”


Each option has its strengths.


Interval rape is better where a bulk of winter feed is the key requirement.


“But on-going feed supply from Italian ryegrass over the coming months often makes it much easier to manage in a farm system.


“Tabu+ will grow at twice the speed of a perennial through early spring, which is ideal for set stocking lambing ewes or feeding cows, and it can be left in for the next one to two years, taking pressure off the need to resow in spring (which rape requires).”


A key management tip for Tabu+ is to add N fertiliser after the final autumn grazing, to maximise yield for winter and to act as ‘anti-freeze’, lessening leaf burn.

For either crop, direct drilling is best because it’s faster than cultivation, she says.


For best results, existing pasture needs to be sprayed out thoroughly, with an appropriate insecticide to control springtails (rape) or Argentine stem weevil (ryegrass).


Treated seed is essential; slug bait may be required to protect seedlings of both crops.


Depth control of seed placement is more critical when direct drilling because uncultivated soil is much firmer.


Other options for Southland farmers to consider if feed demand is expected to exceed supply over coming months include autumn nitrogen fertiliser applications (e.g. 30 kg N/ha) to increase pasture cover across the farm; and reducing demand by selling surplus stock.


Many Southland feed crops – like this paddock of swedes – have germinated slowly and unevenly.