Irrigated Cropping Market opportunity: maize and lucerne silage for dairy farmers

Photo of dairy cows feeding

THE DEREGULATION of the dairy industry could provide graingrowers in the irrigation districts of southern NSW and northern Victoria with new opportunities for contract feed production.

Australian dairy farmers should look to their New Zealand counterparts who have been through deregulation and still retain their global position as the world's lowest cost producer of milk. The Kiwis are purchasing less 'pasture' hay and concentrates and focusing on maize and lucerne silages to complement and extend their grazed pasture.

Graingrowers could benefit through increased contract production of silage for many dairy farmers who have neither equipment or land nor the time for adequate feed production.

New Zealand dairy farmers increasingly purchase forage products on the basis of independent laboratory analysis and vendor declarations. This is already happening here, as the key determinants of 'value for money' in any forage purchase are protein content and digestibility, which cannot be appraised visually.

Amazing maize - double production with less water use

Data from the Kyabram Dairy Research Centre in Victoria confirm that maize requires less water per hectare than the alternative summer pasture, yet produces up to twice the dry matter production from the same area. Current figures indicate that maize silage can be delivered on-farm from contract production for approximately 15 cents per kg dry matter.

Nutritionally, using (highenergy) maize silage as a complement to traditional ryegrass/clover pasture (which is high in protein) results in increased milk production and improved cow body condition. The functional fibre contained in maize silage also aids rumen function, reduces the risk of acidosis and bloat, and provides sustained energy release. Research indicates that maize silage can be used to lengthen the lactation cycle, support higher stocking rates over the whole farm, and increase per cow profitability.

Most importantly, maize silage fills feed gaps in autumn and winter, can be fed throughout the lactation cycle, can be fed at varying rates consistent with the other feed sources avai lable, and has a lower pasture substitution rate than grain.

There is also likely to be an increasing role for maize grain in the deregulated dairy industry. Maize grain has a slower rate of fermentation in the cow rumen than either wheat or barley, and provides a sustained release of energy for a longer time after ingestion than either of these alternatives. This can improve feed conversion rates and milk output.

Lucerne - summergrazing alternative

The other major challenge for year-round milk production is overcoming the usual summer/autumn protein shortage that results when spring pasture finishes and lower-quality summer pasture is the primary grazed feed. While maize silage can assist by substituting for spring pasture and allowing more spring pasture to be conserved for later feed-out, most dairy farmers will prefer a summer grazing alternative.

Lucerne provides the dairy farmer with a summer growing legume that complements existing winter/spring pastures, and provides the herd with high protein, highly digestible grazing options from October to May.

Lucerne 's biggest nutritional benefit is that it is more digestible than all other pasture species at an equivalent stage of growth. This allows increased milk production per kg dry matter intake when compared with ryegrass or clover pasture. Lucerne is the ideal partner for maize silage in a dairy ration.

Many dairy farmers are not crop or irrigation experts; most prefer to focus on their dairy management. Increasingly these dairy producers will choose to have their fodder conservation outsourced to a speciali st crop producer, who will be required to meet predetermined quality standards as a condition of sale.

Vendors and purchasers of fodder will need to negotiate supply contracts that allow both parties to achieve profitability from their individual operations, while providing a reliable market or supply for the respective party.

Region North, South, West