Monitoring soil temperature allows earlier cuts of silage to be taken

Farming Connect demonstration farm Erw Fawr, has used soil temperature sensors to make informed decisions on fertiliser applications and cutting dates. This has allowed farmer Ceredig Evans to take earlier, higher quality cuts of silage.


What goes on at Erw Fawr

Ceredig Evans farms 500 acres of heavy clay soils, which includes 395 acres of grass, 75 acres of maize and 30 acres of wholecrop, at Erw Fawr in Anglesey.

All the forage feeds the dairy herd of 330 pedigree Holstein cows, which yield an average of 9,000 litres of milk per cow per year.

Mr Evans says the family runs the farm as a closed herd and calve all year round, having 200 dairy followers at any one time – this means producing high-quality forage is really important for them.

Farm Facts Sil All testimonial 1

Making the decision to monitor

“Working alongside Dyfrig Hughes our adviser from ForFarmers and Farming Connect, we started running a trial looking into soil temperatures, as we were interested to see what the data would show,” says Mr Evans.

"Sensors were installed across the farm and a LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) aerial fitted to the shed. This provides us with access to soil temperatures and moisture of the fields, allowing us to make informed decisions on fertiliser applications and cutting dates", see figure one.

Soil and air temperatures from 120222 to 280522

He adds: "For a 10-day period in March, we saw a real spike in temperatures, these then dropped off again early April, before rising towards the end of the month, which is when we took our first cut.

“We’ve been implementing a multi-cut silage system for some time with the aim of trying to increase milk from forage – but to get the best results from this we needed to cut as early as possible.”

Data influencing decision making

Mr Evans says the data available from the sensors gives him reassurance that the temperatures are right for the fertiliser to start working.

“We’re now applying fertiliser as soon as physically possible without damaging the land – it’s around 8oC for Italian ryegrass and 10oC for permanent pasture,” he explains.

“Due to earlier fertiliser applications last year, we were able to take our first cut on the 25 April and as a result we’ve got some fantastic silage. We were also able to leave a shorter time between our first and second cut."

“Our milk is sold on a cheese contract and therefore milk solids are important; this year our silage is of consistent quality and so the cows are milking even better than previous years.”

Mr Evans says cutting silage early this year has proved even more valuable than normal, as the family were able to get another cut in at the right time, before the dry weather took hold and grass growth halted. They then made up their silage crop in September when grass growth started again.

“We’re still going to be short of forage, but if we hadn’t cut when we did, we’d be in a worse situation that we are now,” he adds.

Ceredig is also part of the Welsh Pasture Project another Farming Connect initiative. He is one of many dairy farms across Wales measuring his grass growth rates on a weekly basis. Using this data allows him to proactively manage his supply against demand and put strategies in place to react to the challenging weather extremes seen again this year during the summer months.

Dyfrig Hughes, senior sales executive at ForFarmers has worked with the last two generations of the Evans family and says it has been fantastic to be with them on the journey of improving silage quality and milk from forage.

Mr Hughes says: “Monitoring soil temperatures and applying fertiliser earlier has allowed the Evans family to take some early cuts of silage, which wouldn’t have happened without the sensors.

“The data provided has also allowed Ceredig to make timely management decisions which has paid dividends in terms of quality.”

Mr Hughes adds: “As you can see in table one, the D-value, ME and protein is really good and therefore, the cows are able to make the most of the forage, hence why they’re milking really well on it – the cows are producing an extra 2 litres of milk per day from forage alone.

He says it is important to preserve silage quality through to feed-out because good quality silage makes a significant difference to purchased feed costs.

Monitoring soil temperature table

Using incoulants

Mr Hughes adds: “The Evans family have used an inoculant – Sil-All – on all their silage for several years, to protect silage quality. It helps to maintain dry matter levels and preserve the energy and protein within the silage, making it much more stable at feed-out.”

In addition to using an inoculant on his silage, Mr Evans has started using one – Manure Pro in his slurry lagoons too.

Mr Evans says: “We’re currently applying three sachets a month, to help reduce the crust on the lagoon and the time required to pump the slurry. The inoculant is easy to apply and we’re hoping to see a nutritional benefit, with more nutrients being retained within the slurry. We’re planning to test the slurry in early February to assess the available nutrients and we’re anticipating that we will be able to reduce our purchased fertiliser use next year.”

Going forward

Mr Hughes says the Evans family is taking a precision approach to grassland farming and adds: “It’s great to see that Ceredig’s making the most out of the resources available to him to help enhance performance, without increasing production costs.