Excellence in forage production was celebrated when 18 finalists in the six categories of the Mole Valley Farmers' Forage for Profit Awards 2013 attended an awards ceremony in Bristol.
Despite the wettest summer in the last 100 years combined with the lowest sunshine rates for 30 years, the farmer finalists demonstrated quality forage production.
Now in its fourth year, the initiative, which aims to improve the quality and quantity of grass silage on members' farms, is seeing strong results.
Graham Ragg, MVF arable and fertiliser sales manager, explained: "Forage for Profit was prompted by poor average grass-clamp silage results in 2008 and 2009. In 2012 the average is now 0.2 megajoules of metabolisable energy above the national average. When we started Forage for Profit in 2009 the results were 0.3 below the national average – showing that our customers have taken on best practice advice and really deserve a pat on the back for making the most of temporary respites in the weather, adopting re-seeding strategies, good silage-making practice and increased use of proven additives."
The awards evening included a presentation on future developments in forage production from Professor Liam Sinclair, of Harper Adams.
Most Improved Award
Craig and Lucy Stone, Ashburton. The judges, Matt Rance (Mole Valley Forage Services), Mike Sheperd (Growhow) and Dr Robin Hawkey (MVF) said: "Craig and Lucy have an efficient beef farm. Cattle, which include dairy crosses with Angus, Simmental and Limousin have to meet strict growth per day requirements on a Waitrose beef-fattening contract ,with much of the growth coming from their own forage. At the same time they are building their own suckler-cow herd. Since re-seeding the grass leys they can now fill the silage pit from just a third of the acreage it was taking with the old unimproved pasture."
Runners-up were John Varcoe, of Higher Kernick, Bodmin, and John Crocker, of Church Farm, Wincanton.
Chris Knowles, St Ives. The judges, Pete Isaac (MVF), Steve Jones (farm manager at Cannington College) and Jerry Turner (Agrovista), said: "We were impressed by the attention to detail at what we considered was one of the best grass-grazing growers in the region. Close attention is paid to soil sampling, fertiliser applications to improve palatability, and monitoring grass yields through the use of a platemeter. This dairy unit really showed the benefits of grazing, which is accepted as a fraction of the cost of feeding cake in an area considered favourable to growing grass. The difficulty sometimes is turning that grass into milk through good grassland management."
Runners-up were Paul Edmunds, of Ashcott Farm, Bridgwater, and Adrian Dayment, of Sevengates Farm, Totnes.
Big Bale Award
Lloyd Mortimore, Newton Abbot.
An organic 450 acre family farm on Widdecombe in the Moor. The judges, Matthew Rowswell (MVF), Rhun Fychan (IBERS) and Nigel Cockwill (MVF) said: "Lloyd manages to produce good grass even at 1,000 feet altitude on difficult ground. Thirty acres of whole-crop are grown annually with grass leys being replaced every four to five years. The farm has 150 Aberdeen Angus and South Devon suckler cows, and finishes the quality home-produced calves to sell locally."
Runners-up were Kevin Parsons, of Eden Farm, Bude, and Hugo Edwards, of Newport, Monmouthshire.
Beef and Sheep Award
Jim Cleave, Camelford. The judges, Lachie Maclachan (MVF), Richard Tully (previous winner) and Graham Parnel (Limagrain), said: "We were impressed with Jim's understanding of the costs of feeding his beef herd and the profit made on each bullock. He has re-seeded by undersowing spring barley, which he crimps. Forty acres of forage maize are also grown as well as fodder beet, kale and rape for the beef cattle. Home-produced forage has allowed a large reduction in bought-in feed over the last five years."
The runners-up were Frank Hawkins, of North Beer Farm, Spreyton, and Nigel Winney, of Madley, Herefordshire.
Richard and Ian Plummer, Chippenham. The judges, Graham Ragg (MVF), Neil Groom (Maize Growers' Association) and Colin Callender (Ecosyl), said: "Brothers Richard and Ian try to grow 60% forage maize for their high-yielding 140-cow dairy herd, with current yields around 9,800 litres. Supported by MVF nutritionist David Balls they have decided to feed the quality silage, 36.3% starch, to cows in early lactation for the best results. A worthy winner in a difficult year for maize yields."
The runners-up were Keith Mannering, of Winchester, and Bill Pennington, of Poole, Dorset.
Trevor and Carol Johnson, Axminster. The judges, Professor Liam Sinclair, from Harper Adams College, Paul Billings, managing director of British Seed Houses and Dr Chris Bartram, head of nutrition at MVF, said: "Trevor and Carol have a herd of 170 cows producing approximately 8,000 litres per cow, with a feed rate of only 0.27kg per litre and an impressive 3,600 litres from forage. Palatable, good-quality forage – grass silage and whole crop wheat – forms the cornerstone of the business. This year's high-intake potential grass silage has helped to continue to move the physical and financial performance of the unit forward. A total reliance on family labour and a unique, trailer-based forage-feeding system are interesting aspects of the unit. We were impressed by the attention to detail on forage production, nutrition, provided by Mole Valley specialist Martin Coles, and the focus on cost control. We also noted the focus on key goals for the future and the openness to take on board new ideas to move the unit forward."
The runners-up were Sam Passmore, of Manor Farm, Bridgwater, and Austin Knowles, of Malvern.