18/01/15 Blog: By Richard Elsdon Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds
This quote from Dr W Edwards Deming is, as I have found, not the whole story and it has
been the subject of several blogs and articles explaining how this ‘mantra’ of using data to
improve management has been mistakenly applied to many business situations. For the
sake of accuracy, I should point out that the quote goes on to say “there are many
things that cannot be measured but still must be managed."
In an agricultural situation, arable farmers initially measure crop responses by looking at
the number of trailers of produce coming off the field at harvest time. The produce may well then be subjected to
further analysis to see if all cropping goals havebeen achieved. Here I am thinking of milling or malting quality in
the case of cereals - or oilcontent in the case of oilseed rape. Quality and quality are then jointly assessed to see if the
crop has attained the criteria necessary to satisfy the end user.
Compare this measuring and analysis of output with what, too often, happens where
grass is grown. Grass grown to produce silage and hay is measured, up to a point, by the
number of trailers coming off each field. However, more often than not the quality of the
final product when analysed is often assumed to be the result to the weather during the growing season,
with little consideration given to the makeup of the grass sward. Grazed grass output is often
never measured, except when the level of milk in the tank drops.
I am going to suggest that this approach cannot be allowed to continue. The value of
almost all aspects of ruminant output has fallen dramatically - in some tragic cases to the
point where livestock production is either severely curtailed or stops altogether because
costs outstrip income. Grass land must now be measured as carefully and perhaps as
ruthlessly as the output from a manufacturing process.
Let me give you two examples of what I have in mind. Last summer, I was privileged to
attend a farm walk on a dairy farm. The group walked around the paddock grazing system,
stopping at pre¬determined points to discuss the pasture management. The grower was
single minded in his determination to extract the utmost output from the grass under his
management and consequently the margin he made from his sizeable dairy herd. Every
paddock was assessed with a plate meter (a sward stick can do the same job)
continuously throughout the season. The cows went into each paddock when it contained
2700 - 2800 kg of dry matter per hectare and were taken out at 1500 kg of dry matter per
hectare. Don’t let the numbers alarm you. The plate meter or sward stick can do the
measuring for you. Incidentally, this particular grower used his records to spot the poorly performing
paddock(s) and then set about reseeding them.
The second example concerns grass quality. There is a perception that late autumn grass is
‘green water." However, When grown as a crop under the management I am alluding to, this autumn
grass can be as nutritious as grass produced earlier in the season if grazed at the right
stage. Another grower I heard of would send off samples of grass to be analysed through
the season to check that the quality was still present.
Grazed grass is and I believe always has been the cheapest feed for all classes and
types of sheep and cattle. It must be managed. Poor or disappointing output is inevitable
if it is not measured and then managed.
Did I mention we sell a superb range of grass mixtures under the Hubbards Seeds brand?