Alan Hopps, CAFRE Senior Dairying Adviser, takes a look at costings of making silage on conacre land.

The average dairy farm using benchmarking takes 42% of their total land farmed as conacre. The price paid per year varies widely depending on the area, competition for land and sward quality. Farmers often overestimate the amount of silage that land will produce. The yield of silage produced on a given area has a large influence on the cost of silage per tonne on conacre land.

Most dairy farmers aim to make three high quality cuts of silage. The target of 30% dry matter requires wilting for all three cuts with first cut taken in early May and first cut taken in the last last weeks of August. A typical yield of harvested dry matter would be 12t per hectare per year. The fresh weight would then be 40t per hectare (16.2t per acre). A three-cut system will produce similar yields at each cut. This means that fresh weight harvested at each cut would be 13.3t per hectare (5.4t per acre). So what is the cost of producing this silage per tonne?

Typical costs of producing silage on conacre land are fertiliser at £85 per acre, contracting including slurry and fertiliser applications at £240/acre and conacre at an estimated £150/acre.

The fresh weight yield per acre is 16.2 tonnes at the cost per tonne of silage is £29 not taking into account storage of feed out costs.

If contractors charge per acre, then it is possible to reduce the cost per tonne of making silage by reducing to two cuts and harvesting more material per cut. This type of silage will be cheaper to make per tonne, however higher quality silage will lead to more profit overall. Additional profit will come from more milk produced per cow, higher milk quality, reduced supplementation levels and lower protein concentrate.

If conacre land has older, lower ryegrass content swards, then the yield potential will be much reduced. Conversely, newly reseeded swards with correct nutrient management, have the potential to produce more. A range from 10t per hectare dry matter for older swards to 14t per hectare for more recent reseeds could easily be possible.

The cost of £29 per tonne of silage in Table 1 can be taken as a reference. If a sward only produced 10t dry matter/hectare per year, that land is worth £67 per acre if it is taken in conacre (compared to the £150/acre for average yielding swards). Similarly, if it yields 14t per hectare dry matter, then it is worth £225/acre. This shows the influence that grass yield has on the value of conacre.

It is important that you do the calculations for your own dairy farm based on your own circumstances. Discuss the viability of making silage on conacre land with your local CAFRE dairying adviser.