21 November 2019
Agroforestry event in Melton Mowbray

A Win Win for Farm productivity and the Environment

3 December 2019
iSAGE training course and workshop

Innovations to improve sustainability in the sheep and goat sector

4 November 2019
Calling all UK Sheep farmers!

Survey on breed distribution and management

31 October 2019
Proceedings of the European Conference on Crop Diversification

Abstracts, presentations and workshop reports now online

21 March 2019
In adversity, what are farmers doing to be more resilient?

Opportunities, barriers and constraints in organic techniques helping to improve the sustainability of conventional farming

High organic concentrate feed costs: challenges and solutions

This session seeks to de-mystify the costs of feeding concentrates and to present viable alternatives. Adaptation is a key strategy element in dealing with current problems.
Stephen Clarkson: Chair

Session Summary

Susanne Padel’s overview of the contribution of concentrate feed costs to different livestock enterprises set the scene.

Graham Vallis provided the example of his dairy enterprise where the solution is to minimise concentrate use, feeding only 0.1kg concentrate/litre. His system has been influenced by experience of milk production in New Zealand.  Part of the secret is the right type of cow – that knows how to graze - and fresh grass after every milking.

In subsequent discussions Graham explained the practicalities of grazing oats (quite possible to graze it every 14 days from mid June, until heading) and the contrasting costs of grazed and conserved forages were compared. An alternative approach from the floor was accepting high concentrate inputs and costs, when used to produce valuable winter milk in a higher output system.

Becky Nelder’s presentation of the ICOPP project stimulated discussion of the approaching challenge of providing 100% organic diets for pigs and poultry. The ICOPP project’s database on nutritive value of feeds would prove valuable.

Participants shared experiences of growing protein crops, including lupins and cereal/legume mixtures, for both ensiling and combining. Sunflower seed has been successfully produced in Wales and dehulling may improve its feed value.

Organic farmers’ need for homegrown protein is increasing as a greater proportion of soya is genetically modified. Reducing concentrate inputs is a particular challenge with monogastrics because the consequences of incorrect protein rationing are more immediately detrimental, particularly in the growing phase. Poultry producers in particular feel locked in to a high output system and thus high inputs are required. Opportunities for growing protein of suitable quality in the UK are limited.

There was an observation on the stability of prices organic producers have received for grain and protein crops, while the costs of purchasing concentrates has increased. This begged questions the costs of making feeds and who is making the money out of organic feed purchases.

The main conclusion was that pig and poultry producers should be planning for the end of the derogation in 2014, taking up existing knowledge on protein sources produced in the EU. There is a need for further research to improve the potential of temperate legumes in the UK and an aspiration that HGCA and PGRO levies should be pooled to enhance the opportunities for research on protein sources.

Key Conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Having an animal breed or cross which can perform well in a low concentrate system is one strategy for reducing the need for concentrate inputs. However, with poultry there is little choice in this aspect
  • There are some UK grown protein sources but further research is needed to extend the climatic range of lupins and sunflowers and enable weed control in organic rape and lupins
  • The range may be able to provide more nutrition for monogastrics than at present but this needs further investigation

Action Points

  • Producers need to prepare for the end of the derogation on inorganic feed for pigs and poultry
Susanne Padel (ORC): The real significance of feed costs to costs of production (292KB)

The presentation will draw on an evaluation of the long term financial trends of organic livestock producers compared with conventional based on farm-business survey data. Whilst the standards and principles of organic farming state that feeding strategy should rely as much as possible on feed from the holding this is not necessarily the case. For lowland dairy concentrate feed costs have risen since 2007/08 to on average more than 25% total business costs of milk production, whereas for beef and sheep farms purchased concentrate has also risen but is overall less important. An exploratory analysis of dairy costing data carried out as part of the SOLID project confirms milk from forages as a key performance indicator for organic milk production. It shows that five farms performing well in terms of milk from forage seem all convinced that grazing management is important.

Graham Vallis (Producer): Strategies to reduce concentrate use in milk production (2MB)

‘Organic farming is easy – it’s making a living from dairy farming that is difficult.’ A low cost, low risk farming system is more robust where grazed grass, the cornerstone of dairying serves the purpose best.

Becky Nelder (ORC): An introduction to the ICOPP project - improved contribution of local feed to support 100% organic feed supply to pigs/poultry (1.2MB)

A key challenge in improving the sustainability of organic monogastric production is meeting the required levels of nutrients from locally sourced organic feeds. Organic pig and poultry systems have been allowed a derogation from the EU Organic Regulatory Board to include up to 5% non-organic feed within their rations. After an extension of 3 years, this derogation will finish at the end of December 2014. From then on all producers will be required to feed monogastric animals a 100% organic diet. The derogation has been extended until the end of 2014 but it is inevitable that producers will be required to shift to a 100% organic diet. There is however, very little experience and limited information on the implications of a shift in feeding strategy to 100% organic for monogastric production, animal health and welfare and sustainability. The ICOPP project is a collaboration of 15 partners across 10 European countries, financed through CORE Organic 2. It will bring together an extended knowledge of different local feeds and their wider impact on growth, health and welfare and the environment to identify feeding strategies which comply with organic principles. The aim is to produce economically profitable feeding strategies based on 100% organic feed across Europe, which will supply poultry and pigs the required level of nutrients in different phases of production and support high animal health