Project Introduction - Cothi Vale

Wholecrop silage is becoming a more popular crop choice for livestock farmers wanting to vary their home-grown forage cropping options from both a feed and crop rotation perspective. As part of a balanced diet, fermented wholecrop silage can improve cow health and performance by improving rumen function. It provides a valuable and rumen-friendly source of starch.


A benefit of growing wholecrop over maize is an earlier harvesting window which means the crop is ready to be fed at the beginning of the winter housing period. Weather and ground conditions are likely to be drier due to an earlier harvest, resulting in less compaction and wheel rutting at harvest time which can be a problem for many Welsh farms. This means that the soil requires less cultivation before the next crop is drilled.  Whole crop offers more flexibility in a Welsh farming system for both crop selection and harvest date which builds greater resilience into the system. However, when contractors are used for harvesting consider using varieties with early ripening characteristics and a high level of disease resistance to avoid clashes with second cut silage dates.


Which cereal?

Oats, rye, triticale, barley and wheat have all been used as wholecrop cereals. In the UK, winter wheat and barley are commonly used due to their high DM yield (t/ha). Factors affecting choice are yield, grain hardness, palatability and their place in the rotation. Winter wheat is more drought tolerant than other cereals and can be grown in a wide range of soil conditions. It can also be grown on longer to produce a higher dry matter yield. This is because of relative grain hardness: the target grain texture described as ‘soft cheddar’ is best for fermented wholecrop silage.

Under sowing a spring sown cereal with ryegrass provides additional options later in the season. After harvest the ryegrass provides a grazing ley which is useful for finishing lambs. The other option in this scenario is to grow a spring barley crop and direct drill ryegrass into the barley stubble post-harvest.  


Potential pests and diseases to be aware of:

Frit fly – a grass ley going into cereal can be susceptible as the frit fly lays eggs on tillers with less than five leaves. Frit flies produce three generations of larvae a year and are prevalent in almost all grass swards. The small larvae feed on the central shoot of the plant causing tiller death.
Leather jackets – Crane fly larvae feed on the roots and stems of grass plants at or below ground level. Severe infestations in established grassland can lead to yield losses of more than 5t of DM/ha whilst attacks in newly established leys are more likely to lead to plant death and crop failure.
Wireworm – can be a problem after a permanent grass ley.

Currently there is a lack of chemical treatments available for frit fly and leather jackets however seed treatments are available for cereals for wireworm control.

Slugs – an issue in all re-seeds particularly if the ground is wet – roll after drilling and use of slug pellets where required is an option.
Vermin -  attacks to stored bales is often a problem because of the high grain content of the bales making them appealing to vermin.


The project will assess whether wholecrop can become part of the rotation in an attempt to control the increasing cost of bought in feed. It will investigate whether using wholecrop increases the amount of home-grown forages used in the winter feed rations and whether this has the potential to improve the farm’s self-sufficiency. The performance of a spring sown barley with under sown rye grass will be compared with the usual first cut ryegrass silage from a permanent pasture and information on establishment, growing and harvesting costs will be compared. In addition the feed value of the two crops will be compared and rations formulated accordingly depending on the class of stock being fed. The need for bought-in concentrates will be closely monitored and the economics of the two crops will be reported on.


What will be done:

  • Take full soil tests on ground to be used for wholecrop and create a nutrient management plan and assess soil structure. 
  • Create an agronomic plan for planting the whole crop choosing crop and variety suitable to the site.  Split the field in half and sow half with barley under sown with ryegrass and the other half remaining as permanent pasture. 
  • An agronomist will regularly check for any weed or disease issues and recommend control measures as required.
  • With support from the agronomist the wholecrop will be harvested at the correct growth stage. Big bales will be made rather than clamp storage and options for use of silage additives and appropriate storage will be considered.   
  • Assess silage quality and work out nutritional value of whole crop and full agronomic costs per kg DM and per kg of protein.

(sources: AHDB Lamb & Beef Case study 2016, Harper Adams Agricultural University, Biotal UK)