Summer crops reduce bought-in feed

Lachie Sutherland has put in 80 per cent more summer crop this year.

The extra summer crops were part of a longer-term business plan to reduce the amount of bought-in feed at his Larpent dairy farm.

This year with high grain and hay prices, staggered plantings of 36 ha of summer crop – including rape, turnips and pasja – has helped control inputs.

“In a normal year we would have bought a load of vetch (by now),” he said last month.

“But we haven’t bought any this year.”

Lachie, wife Bec and son Gus milk up to 400 cows and split calve. Last month they were milking 360, a result of strict culling due to higher cull prices and adjusting the business for the season.

In the middle of last month, the herd was grazing a turnip and rape crop with an estimated yield of 4 tonne/ha.

This crop received 76 mm of rainfall since it was sown on November 5 and Lachie believed if it had received another 25 mm it would have yielded another tonne/ha.

Pasja was sown into heavy black flats – “tough country to crop” – on December 19.

This quick-establishing crop was sown as the area needed to be renovated after flooding and Lachie wanted to take advantage of the substantial subsoil moisture. Lachie hoped to be grazing this within six weeks of planting.

Rape, by itself, was also sown in the first week of December as well.

“We try to stagger plantings to optimise grazing and we have different species to help us manage climate risk,” Lachie said.

For example, Barkant turnips and Titan rape were mixed because they yield well in a good season, but if Mother Nature doesn’t co-operate the titan persists.

“There is a cost associated with cultivating but this paddock (sown to turnips and rape) was cut for silage and then sown,” he said.

“Even if we can grow 3 tonnes a hectare its feed we don’t have to purchase in terms of hay. Silage yields were good this season, but the quality wasn’t as good as the previous year.”

After a dry autumn, the timely rainfall in spring was a boon for the business.

“It has been fantastic, a great spring,” Lachie said.

“Hopefully with the summer rain, the perennial pastures hold-on.”

“I’m happy with the way things are going but the high cost and low margin is of concern.”

Lachie Sutherland from Larpent, south-west Victoria increased the amount of summer crop he planted, staggering sowing times and mixing species to manage climate risk.