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Blog: Richard Elsdon

18/01/15 Blog: By Richard Elsdon Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it

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?

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