FPP part two: the big grazing management question
In part two of our grazing management guide, Declan Marren looks at how the focus farms have adopted grazing systems that best suit their individual farms.

Last week we took a closer look at just how much is to be gained by managing grazing throughout the season. By moving from a set stocked system to paddock grazing there is the potential to grow and utilise over 90% more grass, with an energy supply increase to animals of up to 110% (Table 1). This not only leads to an increased stock carrying capacity of every acre of ground, but also significantly boost daily liveweight gains of grazing animals.

The benefits, therefore, are quite clear and while the above figures are achievable through extensive use of paddocks, the fact is that moving from set stocking to any form of rotational grazing is going to improve grass growth and utilisation, and in turn stocking capacity and daily liveweight gains – driving output per hectare on your farm.

Grazed grass is the cheapest feed we can produce and while we may not be able to enjoy the 280+ day-grazing seasons achievable in other parts of the world, to me this means we need to make all the more use of grass during the shorter grazing period that we have.

It’s never too late to set up a rotation for animals. Grass growth across the country has been phenomenal over the last fortnight, with growth rates sitting comfortably in the mid 80s kgDM/ha/day. This is nearly double the typical daily demand on most livestock farms.

Boost silage reserves

Having endured a poor second half of last year and a difficult spring this year, everyone is feeling the pinch of the prolonged winter routine. Fodder stocks are at an all-time low and work needs to be done to replenish them for the coming winter.

Every blade of grass grown on-farm needs to be utilised this year, as we try not only to conserve enough fodder for a normal winter but also replenish our buffer stock in the yard. Already this year the use of rotational grazing has allowed two of the six focus farms to conserve excess grazing as baled silage. In a set stocked situation this grass would have been trampled back into the ground by grazing stock, while reducing performance of those animals that grazed it.

Focus farms

Each of the focus farms have adopted some form of rotational grazing that best suit their farms. Here is what they are doing.

Sub-dividing fields for cattle

Last year the Mackays at Greenvale, Thurso, simply split one 16-acre field in two with a single strand of mains electric fence. This field was adjacent to another nine-acre field. Across the 29 acres they ran a bulling group of 35 cows for the full summer. As well as this they managed to take out eight acres as surplus grass. Calves averaged 1.3kg/day from birth to weaning. With three paddocks they were moving every five to seven days.

This year the three paddocks will be sub-divided again to create six paddocks for the grazing group. This is to give Mark and Shona greater flexibility over grazing decisions. If a paddock becomes too strong it is much easier to manage without one sixth of the grazing rotation, compared with taking out one third of the rotation when it was only three divisions.

The Gammies at Drumforber, Laurencekirk, divided one 15-acre field into three and an adjoining 12-acre field into two. This was done with temporary posts and two strands of rope wire. Rope wire was used to be easier for animals to see and get used to.

Again, one bulling group rotated around these paddocks for the most of the grazing season, barring one week towards the end of June when grass growth was poor.

Matching stock to field sizes

The Duffuses at Mains of Auchriachan, Tomintoul, had three similar-sized fields beside each other that they rotated autumn calvers around all summer. The cows were removed at weaning time and the calves remained on the rotation. This is a simple system yet still achieves the ultimate goal of rotational grazing – increased grazing pressure followed by a period of rest and recovery.

Sheep grazing

Last year the Duguids, Mains of Cranna, Aberchirder, grazed 150 ewes with predominantly double lambs at foot on a 17-acre field divided into four. This was achieved with temporary posts and four strands of temporary electric wire on a battery fence.

They also managed to take out nearly 30 bales of silage as surplus grass during a period of high growth. This year they have decided to increase the number of paddocks per grazing group to six as well to give them more options.

This year the Biffens at Mains of Arnage, Ellon, are grazing all their ewes and lambs across seven paddocks using a combination of a permanent spine fence and Gallagher Smartfence off of these to create more paddocks. The Websters at Ardhuncart farm, Kildrummy, have gone with a more permanent option with Octoposts every 15m and four strands of electric wire. This has been done to split a 22-acre field into four paddocks.

Shoulders of the year

One other area where we have seen progress made on the focus farms is getting stock out to grass earlier in spring time. While last spring we managed to get stock out up to six weeks earlier than in previous years. This spring was a lot more challenging, yet we still managed to get stock out two to four weeks earlier than prior to the start of the project.

This was achieved by doing two things:

  • Not grazing all swards completely out in the back end of the year. Retaining even a small cover of grass over winter allows the grass to start growing that bit earlier come spring, as it has leaves to capture sunlight and photosynthesise. If a grass plant has been completely grazed out over winter, when it starts to grow in spring all of the energy to do so must come from the roots of the plant. This can take longer to achieve due to lower soil temperatures.
  • Getting fertiliser out at the first available opportunity in spring. Each of the six focus farm were monitoring soil temperatures in spring and once soil conditions allowed and soil temperatures were consistently above 5°C, fertiliser was applied at a low rate (30 -40 kgN/ha) to kickstart growth.
  • Benefits of rotational grazing

  • Increased stock carrying capacity/ha.
  • Increased daily liveweight gains.
  • Potential to boost silage reserves in times of high growth.
  • Animals are easier to herd as they are used to being moved regularly.
  • Any sickness can be detected earlier through increased herding.
    Practical problems stopping land tax
    A Land Commission report published options to create a land tax in Scotland.

    Proposals to tax land were published by the Land Commission, offering options for the Scottish Government to take forward. The report states the aim of a land value tax is to reduce derelict land, capture land price spikes for the public purse and create more diversity of ownership. However, the Scottish Government states there are no plans to create a tax at this moment, claiming there are “significant practical problems to be resolved”.

    The report suggests that using a land value tax could achieve these objectives, but the Reading University-written report does state that a number of practical issues would need to be resolved before any system is implemented. Options in the report include creating a new land tax system and including farmland in business rates.

    “The research suggests land value tax could contribute to addressing key land reform objectives, including bringing vacant and derelict sites into use, reinvesting rising land values to public benefit and moving to a more diverse and productive pattern of land ownership,” said Hamish Trench, chief executive of the Scottish Land Commission. The Scottish Green party is keen to seen this proposal move forward.

    Scottish Green party MSP, Andy Wightman, said: “This is a very welcome report which recognises the massive untapped potential of using land values to raise funds for public services, as well as encouraging fairer and more productive ownership of land, rather than the speculative hoarding of it – which blights many communities.

    “It’s good to see this long-standing Scottish Greens policy being actively considered by the Scottish Land Commission.”

    However Alexandra Docherty, tax partner at Johnston Carmichael, who operates NFU Scotland’s Tax Advice Helpline, would urge caution.

    “The findings of the report show a lack of practical evidence of these benefits among the countries considered as part of the study.

    “There are a number of practical issues that need to be considered carefully by the commission. For instance, the inference of the report is that landowners have flexibility to maximise the use of their land. As we know from regulations surrounding basic payment entitlements within the agricultural sector, landowners are subject to rigid regulations on land use and must conform, otherwise their access to agricultural subsidies would be impacted.”

    A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have no plans to introduce a land value tax in Scotland. While the Scottish Land Commission report highlights the potential role this tax might have in progressing our land reform policies, it details significant practical issues to be resolved before it could be realised.

    “We remain committed to making local taxation more progressive, while improving the financial accountability of local government. We have made clear that we are open to further dialogue on options for local tax reform.”

    The report looks into different options for the government, including creating a new taxation system for land and land businesses, like agriculture, in current business rates.

    The report looked at land taxation in Australia (Queensland), Estonia, New Zealand, Denmark, South Africa and Namibia for suggestions on how it could be implemented in Scotland. From these case studies the report states: “There was little evidence that land value tax has any perceptible redistributive effect, helps with breaking up large estates, or with bringing under-utilised land in to beneficial use, although it was claimed that in Estonia it had encouraged owners to dispose of land not in productive use.”

    In Estonia, the local government sets a land value tax of between 0.1% to 2.0% of the value of the land, with most setting a rate nearer the top of the band.

    Meanwhile, land tax was seen as a way to get more diversity of land ownership in Namibia, which the report points out has farmland mainly owned by white people. The taxation of commercial farm land has been seen as a success due to the extent of popular and political support, and the amount of revenue it has raised to fund the acquisition of land for land reform purposes.

    12% drop in Scottish cereal production
    Poor weather hits the Scottish cereal yield.

    A combination of a 9% drop in yield and 3% drop in area had left Scotland with 12% less cereals this year than in 2017, according to Scottish Government’s final estimates.

    The 2.5m tonne harvest has been blamed on unfavourable weather conditions experienced in winter 2017, as well as spring and early summer of 2018. The government points out that due to the weather a number of farmers switched to harvesting whole-crop due to low yields and quality.

    Spring barley’s yield fell 6%, but production fell only 3% due to a 3% increase in area planted. Poor sowing conditions in 2017 saw winter barley area drop by a fifth and yields also fell 4%, leaving nearly a quarter less of production.

    This is the smallest amount of Scottish production since 1993 and the lowest area planted since records started in 1982.

    Wheat was also down, as the area grown fell nearly 10% and yields were down 16%.

    Across the country less popular crops, like oats and oilseed rape, also saw reductions in area, yield and production over the last year.

    Final estimates of the Scottish Cereal and Oilseed Rape Harvest are based on final yield results from the 2018 Cereal Production Survey.

    These are combined with final crop areas from the 2018 June census to give production totals.

    Smallest potato harvest since 2012
    British potato tonnage is at its lowest in six years, while the Scottish yield per hectare increases.

    Shoppers are being told to prepare for a greater diversity of potato shapes and sizes, as total British tonnage drops to lowest in six years. The total British potato harvest is 13% down on the five-year average of 5.6m tonnes to 4.9m tonnes, the annual Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) estimates. The relatively low production figure is a result of an estimated 4.4% drop in planted area across GB, and a 12% drop in average yield.

    Average yields in England were 40.1t/ha, a 20% decrease from the 49.9t/ha seen last season.

    This has been put down to late planting and a prolonged hot and dry summer stalling growth in June and July.

    The 53% of potato fields which had access to irrigation suffered less in the hot, dry spell.

    More tonnage/ha in Scotland

    Meanwhile, the Scottish yield per hectare rose 3% to 49.2t/ha. This has been put down to a less severe heatwave. Eastern Scotland, which grows most of the tatties, received 75mm of rain in June and July compared with only 43mm in central England.

    Although total production did dip as the area planted fell to 1,600 fewer hectares planted.

    Sector strategy director at AHDB Potatoes, Dr Rob Clayton, said: “We won’t run out of potatoes, didn’t in 2012 and we won’t in 2018. But what consumers will notice is a wider range of shapes and sizes in the bag they bring home.

    “With fewer potatoes around this year, supermarkets won’t be able to only choose from the ‘middle’ section of sizes – hence more variety in the bag.”