Whole crop silage

Whole crop silage

Post-harvest stubbles retained through the winter will provide valuable seed for farmland wildlife over the winter months.

What

Cereal-based whole crop silage can provide benefits to wildlife either when used in conjunction with, or to replace, maize or grass silage.

mowing Whole Crop

Why

As livestock farming has become more reliant on grass silage and bought-in feed, the range of on-farm crops grown has decreased. This has in turn reduced the diversity of habitats and the food and shelter they provide our wildlife. Cereal crops can provide an important habitat for wildlife in grass-dominated pastoral landscapes, providing habitat for ground-nesting birds like skylarks, whilst arable weeds in the crop can provide valuable insect and seed food for a wide range of wildlife.

Growing cereals for wholecrop silage or crimping is a practical way to maintain an element of cereal cropping within livestock systems. Cereals can provide substantial benefits for seed-eating birds over maize and grass silage, especially where stubbles are retained. Wheat and barley have also been shown to support more invertebrates than maize silage fields. The benefits of spring-sown whole crop silage are greater for birds than autumn-sown crops, because winter stubble provides a seed source for birds such as meadow pipits and skylarks, and spring tillage offers nesting habitat for lapwings.

Although fallen seed from a crop harvested green will be limited, seed of weeds growing in the crop such as annual meadow grass, field pansy and chickweed all provide valuable seed for seed-eating birds. The unripe grain of whole crop cereals can also be a vital food source for bunting chicks, especially when large insects are not available.

Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, adult, female in breeding habitat pasture, Northumberland, May

How

Any autumn or spring-sown cereal (wheat, barley, oats, rye) can be used for whole crop silage, however the amount of benefit they provide wildlife will depend on how they are managed.

Spring-sown crops offer greater benefits to wildlife than autumn-sown crops as they provide ideal nesting sites for lapwings and skylarks.

Seed from arable weeds growing in the crop, along with insect populations living in the crop, provide useful food for birds. If crop spraying is required, targeting competitive and invasive weeds whilst leaving less competitive plants to grow and seed will help to provide increased food supply for birds and other wildlife.

Post-harvest stubbles will not contain much fallen seed, but can be rich in the seeds of arable weeds, which will be important to wildlife, especially seed-eating farmland birds such a yellowhammers and linnets. The winter stubbles of cereals undersown with grass and clover are of little value to birds as seeds are difficult to access in dense grass.

Bi-cropped whole crop cereals (such as triticale/lupins or barley/peas) should provide similar wildlife benefits (or possibly greater if inputs are reduced).

Arable crops in a rotation with grassland are best fitted between short or medium-term grass leys as most arable plants need regular opportunities to germinate if they are to persist. Arable crops should not be introduced into permanent grassland of existing wildlife or historical value, or land with a high risk of soil run off.

wholecrop, Gethin Davies RSPB

In practice

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