WITH site investigation and excavation starting in early 2012 for the construction of Ramgen Ltd’s 500 kW Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant, feedstock production and harvesting started later that same year in preparation for its commissioning.
As many will remember 2012/2013 was a very difficult time in relation to weather conditions, land conditions and silage production resulting in massive feedstock shortages the following spring. But this sounds all too familiar as 2017/2018 has almost been a repeat of those extreme conditions resulting in the same outcomes. But there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel.
Bernard Fox (pictured), managing director of RAMGen Ltd, who now operate their 500kw Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant based on the family farm in Derrynoose, County Armagh, states: “We started in 2012, one of the worst years possible for silage production but we didn’t expect to see a return of those same extreme conditions so soon, but 2017/2018 has been a repeat.
“We ensile between 12000T-14000T of forage per year and this is becoming impossible without becoming more efficient and effective in all areas of what we do.
“For us 2012 set the trend for things going forward and we made the decision that we needed to plan for the worst possible condition by being faster, more self-sufficient and using low compaction methods where possible resulting in better quality over all.
“We have made a lot of changes and improvements over the past few years including getting soil fertility correct with correct digestate application, introducing new seed varieties, cutting dates, faster crop wilting, chop lengths and using good quality silage inoculant (Agriking).
“But conventional covering and preservation methods was still a massive labour intensive bottleneck in the process, resulting in a lot of visible wastage plus quality and Dry Matter (DM) loss, which every farm, irrespective of size, experiences to the same percentage, but for us this couldn’t continue.
“When trying to design/develop our own financially viable solution to this problem we meet with a company from Holland, EDZE Trading, who were on the same path and had a covering system (Silage Safe) being developed to solve all the issues with conventional methods, irrespective of the farm size or silo.
“Rather than re-invent the wheel we decided to work in partnership with EDZE to develop the system, test the system and eventually distribute the system when it had proven itself.
“After some early teething problems and changes to the system we are very happy to now say that it is ticking all the boxes. The system, which is financially viable for any size of operation, allows us to create a rapid air tight seal with minimal labour requirements, re-tension the system as and when the silage consolidates to maintain that airtight seal and full surface coverage giving protection against bird damage. Its speed and ease of operation leaves it possible to readily open and close the silo to receive additional silage over the full surface of the silo or temporarily close due to weather and re-open without any wastage or DM losses and also maintain an airtight seal during feeding out.
“All good practices during silage production play a part, but this covering and preservation stage is one which is overlooked and does not get the same level of investment, even though it is this stage that results in the greatest amount of wastage and DM losses. For us we have now reduced our DM losses from 20-30 per cent which is the excepted normal, to five per cent and below by being able to target different batches of land to get better quality to begin with, utilising even the shortest weather window and then getting out what we have actually put in.”
Brendan Fox concluded, “This may all sound theoretical but in real life terms without the silage safe system during the horrendous 2017 season we would be currently 1.5-2 months short on feedstock and running out in the next week or two.
“Feedstock reserves are still very tight for us this year but the silage safe system has meant we should hopefully be able to see through till our 2018 crops are ready.”