12th September 2022

Cost-effective catch crop options can help manage price volatility challenges

€œLivestock producers are facing a lot of price volatility and their challenge is to manage this as best they can. Cost-effective forages have a part to play here in providing a high quality feed with low growing costs, particularly for those producers with arable land that can sow a crop after harvest,€ he says.

He draws particular attention to the fast establishment of many catch crops,€“ some of which can be ready for grazing within 12 weeks of sowing, and to the winter hardiness of other varieties that can provide keep right through the winter.

€œForage rape is a good example of a catch crop that can be fed 12 weeks after sowing.

And it’s a great companion to stubble turnips where traditionally varieties are best grazed pre-Christmas.

Limagrain quotes the growing costs of stubble turnips at £305 per hectare with yields of between 3.5 and five tonnes of dry matter per hectare. Equally attractive as a crop to follow cereals is forage rye, which can be sown as late as October and costs £339 per hectare to grow, as shown in Table 1. Yields are typically between five and six tonnes of dry matter per hectare. €œFigures like these mean that growing forage catch crops are certainly a viable and, indeed, profit-making option on many mixed units,€ adds Mr Titley.



Species Sowing time Sowing rate/ha* Growing costs/ha Fresh yield t/ha Dry Matter t/ha Crude Protein % ME kg/DM ME ‘000 MJ/ha
Stubble Turnip May-Aug 5-8kg £305 38-45 3.5-5 17-18 11 38.5 – 44
Forage Rape May – August 6-9kg £408 24-35 3.5-4 19-20 10-11 35-49.5
Lucerne April – August 30-35kg £1459 35-40 10-12 17-22 10 100-120
Forage Rye Sept-Oct 185kg £339 20-24 5-6 11-12 10 50-60

*Kingshay Farming Trust

Growing costs and dry matter yields aside, Mr Titley says that it’s also essential to select the right crop for the farm set up and enterprise. “Stubble turnips are best for short-term keep, whereas forage rape and rape kale hybrids are ideal medium to long term keep.

“Catch crop mixtures, typically with kale, stubble turnips and forage rape, are great choices for many producers looking to finish lambs or for beef,”€ he adds. “They are an increasingly popular way of providing a balanced feed that can be grazed in-situ. These mixtures should include top quality varieties to be most cost-effective.”

A high protein forage rape variety with kale, blended with a high energy stubble turnips variety can provide a win-win feed for those looking for autumn and winter keep with minimal effort. Advantages such as disease resistance, winter hardiness and early establishment have been ‘€˜built-in’ to specific mixtures too, adding to their attractiveness as forage feed stocks.

And there are other advantages of catch crops too as they can mop up any available nutrients – returning them to the soil via the manure of grazing animals – and help to improve soil organic matter and structure.

It’€™s always best to get some advice from an agronomist, look at the crops available and tailor your catch crop and the area required to your livestock needs. But when we look at growing costs verses feed value, a good catch crop is a real winner. They provide a cost-effective winter forage and are a welcome lifeline for beleaguered mixed farm businesses.

Yorkshire-based farmer Ian Elsworth agrees that catch crops represent financial gain for his business. He finishes 1,200 lambs on his mixed arable, beef and sheep unit, based near Easingwold, and says that the Delilah stubble turnips that he grows each year, after winter barley, allow him to take advantage of better lamb prices at the start of the year.

Sown soon after the winter barley is harvested, the stubble turnips are ready just 12 weeks later in October. By then Ian has lambs that he’s bought from Northallerton market – a mixture of Texel, Suffolk and continental crosses – ready to graze the crop.

“I strip graze the lambs on the stubble turnips through to February. They really like the bulb, which is a huge white tankard shape, I think specific to the Delilah variety and it’s a great way to ‘grow them on”€.

Ian buys in lambs from September to November, at around 30kg liveweight, and takes them to between 46kg and 52kgLW. He sells around 100 lambs a week from mid January to mid April with 40% sold to St Merryn and the rest, typically later in the season, through the market.

€œ”Some of the better lambs can be finished on stubble turnips,”€ adds Ian. “€œI can also hold the lambs back, if the market’€™s low, and then sell them when prices firm up a little. The crop adds that flexibility to our system as it holds its high feed quality right through the season.”

For more information on growing stubble turnips, you can download our Stubble Turnip Growers Guide by clicking here. If you would like to speak with one of our Seed Specialists, please call 01472 370117.

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