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Get more from your harvest with John Deere HarvestLab

March 06th, 2024

Using John Deere technology to both produce silage more efficiently and apply slurry more sustainably is paying off financially and environmentally for the Swires family.

Swires Family

When brothers Gary and Steven Swires decided to take further control of their silage-making back in 2019 little did they know it would be such a pivotal step. They began with HarvestLab technology on their forager but after seeing the benefits, the brothers are now using three applications – on the forager, the turntable and now in their slurry applications.

Running 400 commercial Holstein Friesian milkers, 700 heifers and rearing beef animals to sell as stores, the brothers farm at High Moor Farm near Harrogate with sons Jack, Jordan and Dan. Located in a nitrate vulnerable zone, their 324 hectares (800 acres) are mainly down to grass.

While most silaging operations are carried out in-house, a contractor was historically used for harvesting. But when an opportunity came along to buy their own self-propelled forage harvester for the 2019 season, they felt the prospect of taking full control of their silage-making from start to finish was too good to miss. “It gave us the opportunity to cut at the right time and when the weather is right, rather than wanting a contractor when everybody wants one.” Steven says.

With milk sold to Arla and the farm paid for milk solids, their main goal from better silage was to raise butterfat protein, but there was also an increasing focus on farming more efficiently and sustainably. So when another opportunity arose just 18 months later to upgrade their first John Deere forager to one fitted with John Deere HarvestLab technology, which not only measures grass yield but also quality at harvest, they realized they could take the way they grow grass for silage to the next level.

Application 1 – On the Forage Harvester

HarvestLab technology allows the family to understand the quality of the grass at the time of harvest. Using near infrared (NIR) the HarvestLab measures characteristics such as % dry matter, sugar, crude protein and fibre content. It informs farmers which fields are performing the best and enables them to grade their silage there and then.

As a result they can put the highest quality grass into the clamp for the higher-yielding cows. “We can see the quality of the silage as it’s coming in on its way to the clamp, so if it’s like rocket fuel we can put it separately in the clamp. We can feed the cows relative to what is in the heap.” Gary’s son, Jack says.

Application 2 – On the Turntable

HarvestLab has also allowed them to conduct their own day to day analysis of silage samples direct from the clamp. In the winter they might have two cuts open at once, running the silage through the turntable in the office ensures proper bunk management and accurate feed rationing. It’s a mobile laboratory, no more waiting for lab results.

Straight away, the Swires found this revealed significant ME variation even within the same cut, therefore enabling them to give the higher ME material to the higher yielding cows, resulting in a rapid uplift in milk production. 

The more silage and better quality silage, the better the milk quality. The Swires have experienced better butterfat and protein since making their own silage, which has been worth 2ppl, which in turn has covered the harvester investments. The family are also able to use the yield and quality maps produced to identify poorer-performing areas of fields to improve how silage fields are managed. Yield and quality field maps help with fertilizer costs and slurry application too, applying higher doses in field areas showing yield or quality shortfalls and lower doses elsewhere.

Application 3 – Slurry application

HarvestLab technology analyses the constituents of slurry, not only during filling, but during application too. Natural nutrient variations and settling during transport are taken into account and compensated with automatic real-time speed and/or flow rate adjustments.

The Swires family wanted to utilise all HarvestLab applications and had the equipment fitted on their slurry tanker and umbilical in March earlier this year. Located in nitrate vulnerable zone, it’s helpful that volume can be mapped, maximizing yield and quality while keeping within the legal limits. Knowing the constituents and volume of what your field has had avoids down crop and gains more consistent crop growth, plus all data goes straight to the John Deere Operations Center enabling further analysis later.

The Swires didn’t apply any fertilizer on their fourth cut this year due to their use of HarvestLab, commenting on it being the most even crop they have ever had.
‘With slurry, you can change the application instantly as you’re doing it. Harvesting is more collecting data, monitoring what you’re doing, but slurry you’re more than monitoring it, you can react to the data too. Some people spread slurry without knowing what they’re putting on, it’s good to know what part of the field has had what’ Jack says.

‘For us, it’s great to see farmers gaining tangible financial benefits from the smart technology that we provide. We’re all passionate about agriculture, and we get a real sense of achievement when we help our customers evolve toward the accuracy, efficiency and traceability standards that we will all need to be sustainable and successful in the long term.’ says Ripon’s Regional Manager, Richard Halsall.
One season done for the Swires family using Harvest Lab for their slurry applications, and it has already saved some fertilizer costs. The family plan to continue using this technology, saving more going forward with variable rate fertiliser applications from their yield maps too.

‘Slurry is no longer a waste product, it makes you think twice’

New for 2023 – In addition to the three uses of HarvestLab within the ‘greencrop sector’ HarvestLab is now available on John Deere Combines, on-the-go measuring of moisture, protein, starch and oil values in Wheat, Barley and Rapeseed.

To find out more about HarvestLab technology (for any or multiple application/s) please contact our Technology team on 01430 819384.

FETF 2024 Grants - Analyse slurry, forage and cereals with a qualifying product for FETF29, FETF48 & FETF220 grants, currently with a huge 60% off.

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