Forage Planning in a Drought

Forage Planning in a Drought

Sarah Hathway is Senior Technical Manager for Soil Association Certification. In this article, Sarah explains the steps that can be taken to minimise the effects of the drought on your forage stocks.

The drought over the whole of the country, and the rest of Europe too, is affecting forage production for winter feeding but also limiting available grazing now. We know that even if it starts raining tomorrow, for many farms there will be forage shortages for the rest of the year and during the winter housing period. We have already been in discussion with Defra about the shortages and the fact that it is highly likely that derogations for non-organic forage will be needed this year. They have in turn been discussing the issue with the Commission and other member states also affected by the weather in the same way as the UK.

Defra has made it very clear that they want to ensure that any known shortages are communicated early so that they can be managed as practically and efficiently as possible.

It is important that you are prepared to face any challenges that may be ahead to ensure your livestock have enough forage and must, as soon as possible, determine if and how you will be affected by any shortfalls in forage you have for your livestock.

Some simple steps you may have already taken:

  • Calculate the amount of forage you have
  • Calculate how much forage your current livestock numbers will need through a winter housing period (Is there any contingency for a long winter?)
  • If you are feeding forage now estimate quantities needed before you will have grass again - how will this impact your winter stocks?


If you are short of grazing now and feeding forage already:

  • Are there any organic producers in your area that may have some surplus grazing or organic forage for sale?
  • Are there any organic crop producers in your area that may have fields in fertility building that may be able to be grazed? Or stubbles/harvested crops residues that could be grazed?


If you are still going to have a forage shortfall:


Where there is organic forage available this should be purchased to ensure your organic animals can be fed organic feed. If there is insufficient organic forage available:

  • Look for non-organic forage available locally
  • If you are unaware of suppliers you could check the NFU forage bank

cows feeding 

Gaining permission for non-organic forage

Permission to feed any non-organic forage has to be granted by Defra and is very restricted in how the permission can be given and it has to be demonstrated that all steps have been taken to minimise the need for any non-organic feed. Defra also expects that where non-organic forage is needed, it is used on groups of animals least impacting organic integrity. For example, if you know your forage stocks will be short for all your livestock, rather than feed all stock organic forage until it runs out, target feeding non-organic forage early on to young female replacement breeding animals like heifers and ewe lambs that are not producing milk or meat to be sold as organic. Although you will still need Defra permission to do this, we recommend that you get permission early on to ensure that your organic forage is saved for groups of animals producing organic milk or meat. More information on the process of obtaining a forage derogation can be found here. If you have any questions then please contact your certification officer, or any member of the Producer team on 0117 914 2412.