4. Hay and silage
Chart 3 shows the production of silage/haylage, hay and arable silage between 2006 and 2016. These results also include estimates for hay and grass silage/haylage production on minor agricultural holdings.
Year-on-year comparisons between 2015 and 2016 show:
- A decrease in grass silage/haylage production of 517,000 tonnes (7.0 per cent) to 6.85 million tonnes. The tonnage is 2.0 per cent lower than the ten year average of 6.99 million tonnes.
- A decrease in arable silage production of 6,000 tonnes (1.8 per cent) to 329,000 tonnes. The tonnage is 3.2 per cent lower than the ten year average of 340,000 tonnes.
- A decrease in the production of hay of 40,000 tonnes (15.3 per cent) to 224,000 tonnes. The tonnage is 18 per cent lower than the ten year average of 273,000 tonnes.
While there were no extreme weather conditions in 2016, there were less than ideal conditions at several times during the year, with few extended periods of sunshine. The reduction in hay and silage mirrors the poor cereal harvest also reported.
In terms of total tonnage, grass silage/haylage accounted for 93 per cent of production in 2016, with arable silage four per cent and hay three per cent. However, this does not take into account dry matter and nutrient content, which is higher per tonne in hay and arable silage.
Chart 3: Production of hay, silage/haylage and arable silage  , 2006 to 2016
Longer term trends show that the production of grass silage/haylage has remained fairly steady over the past ten years other than the higher than usual figures in 2014 and 2015. Arable silage production decreased between 2006 and 2012, but has fluctuated around 325,000 tonnes since. The hay figures show very strong weather effects, with a very low figure in 2012. In 2016, the hay production figure fell by 40,000 tonnes (15 per cent) following less than ideal weather conditions.
The production of silage is dependent on both the areas of grass cut and the yields per hectare. Chart 4 shows trends for areas and yields of grass cut since 2006. In 2016 the total area cut increased by 8,100 hectares (2.4 per cent) to 343,000 hectares (using the left hand axis). However, a decrease in the yield (down from 22 to 20 tonnes per hectare, shown on the right hand axis) led to a decrease in the production of silage/haylage (down 517,000 tonnes (7.0 per cent) to 6.85 million tonnes).
Chart 4: Area of grass cut for silage/haylage and yields 2006 to 2016
For silage and haylage production, several cuts of grass can be taken from the same area in a single year. The yields reported here correspond to total production, which incorporates all cuts of grass taken from the corresponding area. In 2016, the total area of grass reported on the December Survey for the production of hay, silage and haylage was 381,000 hectares. This represents 29 per cent of the 1.33 million hectares of grass area reported on all holdings in the 2016 June Census.
Chart 5 illustrates how the area of grass cut for hay has varied. After two years in 2013 and 2014 with relatively high areas grown, the area has been around 40,000 hectares.
Hay yields have fluctuated between six and seven tonnes per hectare over the past ten years. 2016 saw a fall in the yield to 5.8 tonnes per hectare after two years of yields around seven tonnes per hectare.
Chart 5: Area of grass cut for hay and yields 2006 to 2016
4.4 Arable Silage
Separate information on the area of arable silage is not collected on the December Survey, so it is not possible to produce a corresponding analysis of areas and yields. Production of arable silage will be determined by a range of factors. These include the areas of arable crops, which are collected on the June Census, but also decisions by farmers on how much of this crop to use for arable silage. This in turn may be determined by the quality of these arable crops, with poorer crops generally being used for animal feed, including arable silage.
4.5 Grass sown
Data for the area of grass sown are only available for larger holdings (generally at least one hectare), and results exclude smaller holdings which, in June 2016, accounted for approximately 5.1 per cent of the total area of grassland (temporary and permanent grass).
The area of grass sown on larger holdings in the last ten years has ranged between 41,000 and 60,000 hectares. In 2016 there was an increase from 2015 of 3,900 hectares (7.7 per cent) to 54,500 hectares. The total area sown at 1 st December 2016 equates to four per cent of the total grass area on larger holdings at 1 st June 2016 (1.26 million hectares). Of the total sown, 18,200 hectares was under-sown to cereal or other crops (grass and cereals grown together allowing grass to establish ready for autumn grazing whilst still giving a useful yield of grain) and 36,300 hectares was directly sown or reseeded.