The regular measurement of grass, combined with frequent movement of animals between paddocks, will definitely result in the farm growing more tonnes of a higher quality grass. Since grass is the cheapest form of feed this will result in higher farm profits and will help the farm cope during periods of low milk and beef prices.
The use of the key tools, such as the spring rotation planner, the grass wedge, and the grass budget, make this possible. By constantly tracking supply and demand of grass, you can make prompt decisions during times of grass surplus or deficit.
There is a learning curve on how to make the right week to week decisions on grass. A key process for learning is to join online discussion groups within the AgriNet grass site and learn from your peers. This online discussion group is also available to your grass adviser and puts this adviser in a great position to add value to your grass data and help you make the right decisions.
At the end of the growing season the software can identify tonnes grown per hectare on each paddock, which allows you to make good decisions on paddock reseeding.
Grass covers (in kg Dry matter per Hectare) are most frequently measured by eyeball, plate meter or quadrant (cut & weigh). The farmers who get most value from this system measure grass once a week. The software has a mechanism to measure growth on grazed paddocks as well as for growing paddocks. Grazing dates, plus soil temperature and rainfall can also be recorded. Grass can be recorded on the browser on the PC in the office or offline on a Smartphone as you walk the paddocks.
The spring rotation planner is a key early season tool. It simple displays the percentage of the farm that should be grazed each week. A small area is grazed in the first week of grazing and the daily area grazed is increased gradually up to the start of the second round, at which time the Grass Wedge becomes the main decision making tool. During the period of the spring rotation planner, as farm walks are done and grazing dates are recorded, the AgriNet software shows target versus actual for the total number of hectares grazed to date. There is a good training video explaining how to create a good spring rotation plan here
The grass wedge appears as soon as the grass covers have been saved. This gives you an instant overview of the current grass supply and demand and is ideal for the mid season grazing period. There are a number of “what if” scenarios that can now be tried.
The system automatically records changes as you make them, and you can record extra notes for yourself, and for your discussion group colleagues, as well. Finally you can print a compact 1 page report that contains your key data and decisions for the week. All this data is also available on the offline Smartphone software as well. There is a good training video explaining the use of the grass wedge here
A grass budget can be done for any period during the year. But it is most often used to plan for a reserve of grass to be built up in the autumn for late autumn grazing, and also to carry grass over the winter for early spring grazing the following year.
By entering predictions for grass growth and stocking levels and grass consumption rates, the budget estimates average farm covers for future weeks and months. For example, in Ireland, farmers plan to have about 2100 kgDM/Ha total farm cover at the end of November. This is then used for early grazing the following February. When you have a projected future average farm cover line (in blue) that looks acceptable (see graph), a target line (in red) is set to coincide with the blue projected line. Thereafter as new covers (in green) are done in subsequent weeks, the blue line will diverge from the red line. The farmer or farm adviser then makes decisions to get the average farm cover for next week (in blue) back on track towards the target line in red.
While the main focus is to plan the grass situation, it is also possible to estimate total requirements for feed and silage during this period also.
The autumn rotation planner is another tool that can be used at the end of the grass growing season. You select the start date of the last rotation, the interim date when you want about 60% of the last rotation to be complete, and the final date for grazing (housing). The land grazed before the interim date will be grazed in the first month of grazing the following year. As paddocks are grazed out after the start of the last rotation, they appear as black bars in grass wedges done in late autumn.
If you measure frequently during the year, the annual tonnage report is a key report where very significant future decisions can be made for the farm. From this report you can identify paddocks that are producing less grass. For example, if the farm is producing 12 tonnes DM/Ha/year on average but paddock 21 is producing only 9 DM/Ha/year, then reseeding this paddock may realistically result in 3 extra tonnes of grass production. If you can increase the annual tonnage from all paddocks by 10% then the farm can consider carrying 10% more stock or could be able to buy in 10% less feed. You can also relate tonnage on paddocks to levels of fertilizer usage, key soil sample results, grass varieties sown, etc.
While the weekly grass covers are the key data required for good grass decision making, the bulk tank records are the second most important bit of data. You really only need to record bulk tank data on the day you walk the farm. This then displays the litres/cow/day in the grass wedge and also the kgMS/cow/day as well. Therefore at a glance, you can see the grass situation and the herd performance situation in one grass wedge screen. This data is also visible to all farmers in your discussion group, and to farm advisers, that you have invited to view your data.
For farmers in Ireland there are 5 dairy co-ops that can stream the bulk tank data from the co-op computer direct to the AgriNet database. These are Arivo, Dairygold, Glanbia, Kerry and Lakeland Dairies. Once you select an authorisation form in the AgriNet site, thereafter the milk records are loaded automatically and on a daily basis.
The most important records for the grass software are grass covers and milk tank records. Fertilizer usage is the next most useful set of records. The easiest way to record fertilizer usage is to know the tonnes of a product that was applied on a given date and then just click the paddocks that were spread on that date. The system then allocates the fertilizer at the right rate. There is a good reporting area that summarises all fertilizer usage for the year at a farm and paddock level and displays all applications for all dates. The fertilizer usage also feeds in to the grass wedge and group summary reports.
A key advantage of a web based central database approach, used by the AgriNet grass software, is that farmers can create online discussion groups with other farmers and with farm advisers. Invitations to other people are done in the Group Invitations area and every farmer has control over who can see their grass data. The big advantage of this is that you can see what is happening on other farms and you can see the decisions being made on other farms. There is a learning curve to making good grass decisions and the group input, available in the Grass Wedge and Group Summary reports, helps greatly with the learning process.
Providing a platform for farm advisers to help their clients make better grass decisions is a key focus for the AgriNet grass software. There is no cost to farm advisers for use of the software. If you sign up as a farm adviser, you can enter test data so you can learn how to use the software. This test data does not show up in any discussion group reports.
You can see a list of all your clients in one Group Summary screen and this can be the basis for any group discussions with your clients. You can sort farms by different key variables and you can drill down in the Grass Wedge or Grass Budget reports for any individual farm. In the Grass Wedge screen you can see the most recent grass decisions that were made.
You can sign up and use the software immediately. There is no cost at all to farm advisers and farmers also get a 2 month free initial trail period. The steps are
Click on Sign Up button to give yourself a username and password.