Fodder crops such as maize and beet can be great additions to livestock diets for energy and decreasing ration use. They can also help to fill feed deficits or allow more stock to be carried if the growing of these crops is outsourced.

They provide locally sourced feed for the livestock sector, with low food miles which should be of a high standard and are traceable.

Many farmers feeding fodder crops such as maize and beet enter into agreements where a tillage farmer grows a fodder crop for the livestock farmer.

The arrangement can have many benefits for each party. The livestock farmer gets a tillage farmer with crop husbandry experience and tillage equipment to plant and look after the crop.

If slurry needs to be exported, this land can be used as an outlet and space can be freed up on the land block for more animals. The tillage farmer then gets a break crop, an alternative income stream, may receive animal manure and diversify the crop rotation and can spread the workload throughout the season.

The actual agreement itself is often where these arrangements can break down.

Ideally, farmers who know and trust each other would work together, each happy that the tillage farmer will grow the best crop possible and the livestock farmer will take the feed and pay for it at the end of the season.

Relationships break down where the livestock farmer decides they have enough grass and silage and that they do not want the maize when it has already been planted or when a tillage farmer does not do their best to reach the highest yields possible.

Forage contracts

For those entering into an agreement who want some more security there are many different contract templates available for growing fodder crops on contract and they can set a base for everyone.

The contract can also detail how the crop will be weighed and possibly tested for dry matter.

However, it is important to remember that in general these contracts are not legally binding, so try to work with someone you trust and can work well with.

Contract templates

Teagasc has a sample contract template for growing maize and this could also apply to other crops. It has seven main points.

1 The first thing is to agree on the tonnage that will be supplied. Teagasc has advised that this is stated in a range to allow for seasonal fluctuations. Whether the maize is covered or uncovered should also be stated here.

2 The crop will be grown in accordance with best practice for maize production in Ireland.

3 State the variety or varieties to be grown.

4 This point should clarify if the maize will be supplied as a standing crop or will be delivered and by what date it will be delivered. This should be a conservative estimate.

5 State that under the contract the grower will retain the entitlements and basic payment on the land used to grow the forage crop.

6 This point outlines an agreement to weigh the harvested maize. The grower and purchaser may agree to weigh a certain number of loads. For example, where not all loads are weighed then a minimum percentage, for example 20% of loads, should be agreed. This should be stated on the contract.

7 The grower and the purchaser agree that an independent third party should assess when the crop is ready for harvest, representatively sample the maize silage pit and send a sample to a certified lab for dry matter and starch analysis.

Price

Teagasc suggests that both parties agree to a base price using the annual costs and returns values and that there can be a plus or minus bonus or penalty based on an average of 30% for dry matter and starch content. Teagasc suggests that this bonus or penalty is €1.80 per unit (%) increase.

Deposit

A deposit should be paid to the grower. Maize is an expensive crop to grow and the deposit also acts as some sort of insurance.

A sample contract from Teagasc can be viewed in The Maize Guide.

Comment

Contracts can be very useful to set the ground rules in the forage crop production agreement, but trust is key between the parties and while the agreement can reduce doubt on either side, it is not legally binding.

A deposit is key when forming an agreement with a new buyer and the tillage farmer should do their homework on new customers coming in.

However, trust and a good working relationship is what makes these agreements work.

Last December, the Irish Farmers Journal met two Co Cork farmers in a forage production agreement – John Gleeson (tillage) and John Kelleher (dairy).

The pair knew each other before they started growing and purchasing maize and agreed to sell and pay on a per-acre basis with no account of dry matter or starch content.

Where this can be done, it is a good arrangement as neither party feels at risk. John Kelleher trusts John Gleeson to grow the best crop possible and is happy with yield and quality and if extreme weather comes along that is out of the tillage farmer’s control then a big hit isn’t taken to income.

The Corkmen did not like the idea of growing on spec and added that where quality factors come into the payment system things get very complicated.

Both agreed that it’s an expensive crop to grow and if there is any doubt on the financial side, the crop should not be planted.

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