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Forage production strategies for improved profitability in organic dairy production at high latitudes

Flaten, O., Bakken, A.K., Lindås, A., Steinshamn, H.
Livestock science 2019 v.223 pp. 97-107
Trifolium pratense, agricultural land, barley, cutting frequency, dairy cows, farms, feed evaluation, feed intake, field experimentation, forage production, forage yield, grasslands, latitude, linear programming, meta-analysis, milk, milk yield, models, profitability, profits and margins, silage, silage additives, silage fermentation, sward, Norway
The objective of this paper was to examine how cutting frequency, silage fermentation patterns and clover performance in grass–clover swards influence the use of inputs and profitability in an organic dairy system. A linear programming model was developed to compare a three-cut and a two-cut system for a model farm in Central Norway, either with restricted or extensive silage fermentation at low or high red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) proportion in the sward, giving 8 different silage types in all. Input-output relations incorporated into the model were derived from a meta-analysis of organic grassland field trials in Norway as well as a silage fermentation experiment, and with feed intakes and milk yields from simulations with the ‘TINE Optifôr’ feed ration planner in the Norfor feed evaluation system. The model maximized total gross margin of farms with 260,000 l milk quota and housing capacity for 45 cows, with separate model versions for each of the 8 silage types. Farmland availability varied from 30 to 70 ha with 40 ha as the basis. Our results suggested that farmland availability and marginal return of a competing barley crop profoundly influenced the profitability of the different silage types. A high clover proportion increased dry matter (DM) yields and was far more important for profitability than the score on the other factors considered at restricted land availabilities. Profits with the three-cut systems were always greater than those with the two-cut systems, the former being associated with greater silage intakes and improved dairy cow performances but lower DM forage yields. Three-cut systems were further favoured as land availability increased and also by a lower marginal return of barley. Although use of an acidifying silage additive improved feed intakes and milk production per cow, the practice reduced total milk production and depressed profit compared to untreated, extensively fermented silage at restrictive land availabilities. With more land available, and in particular at a low marginal return of barley, use of a silage additive was profitable.