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Rebuilding of fodder stocks a priority

Rebuilding of fodder stocks a priority

A challenging March has caused issues for dairy, drystock and tillage farmers, attendees heard at yesterday’s meeting of the Fertiliser Sub-group of the National Food and Fodder Security Committee in Teagasc Oak Park, Co. Carlow.

A Teagasc delegation of Mark Plunkett, Michael O’Donovan, Shay Phelan and Pearse Kelly, outlined the current situation at farm level, touching on the topics of fertiliser usage, grass growth, crop plantings and fodder supplies.

Although grass is available, if weather conditions permit grazing, the attendees were informed that the rebuilding of fodder stocks needs to be prioritised. They also heard of the challenges facing the tillage sector, with the potential for poor crop yields meaning that the total national production of cereals will struggle to meet normal production of 2.2 million tonnes and total yields similar to 2018 are likely.


Grass grown this year, as recorded through PastureBase Ireland, has declined by 25% - reaching 910kg DM/ha. This decline has largely occurred due to low growth rates in late February, Teagasc Head of Grassland Science Michael O’Donovan explained.

Weather conditions during the month of March resulted in grazing being negatively affected – with grazing days lost on heavy farms, leading to high levels of supplementation where grazing proved challenging.

With a lack of a window to spread in March, fertiliser application rates have also reduced by 25-30% relative to the previous four years, although slurry applications have been largely up to date from February.

As we approach mid-April, a decision needs to be made at farm level on closing silage ground, even paddocks that have not yet been grazed. The latter should provide quality feed if closed early and fertilised.


Although excellent grazing conditions in February promoted early grazing, leading to a significant silage-saving effect in most regions, the situation worsened during March and early April, resulting in the rehousing of stock and silage feeding at a time of rising feed demand on dairy farms.

Although Teagasc advisors report that grass supplies are plentiful, grazing has been much delayed in many counties. On silage reserves, the west and north is reported to be okay, but supplies are very tight in some areas of the east and south, with some farmers – especially those affected by the drought in 2022 - purchasing low quality silage at high costs.

Given all of the above, the situation points to the risk of feed supply issues if drought occurs in the summer of 2023.


Although an increased number of beef farmers had stock at grass in February, saving on winter feed supplies, conditions over recent weeks have resulted in many returning indoors, Pearse Kelly, Head of Drystock Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc, outlined.

Highly stocked beef farms that fed silage during the drought last summer are now running very tight on fodder due to wet conditions. However, more typical, lower stocked beef farms do not currently have an issue with fodder supplies.

Like dairy farms, very little nitrogen fertiliser was applied on drystock farms over the month of March due to wet weather conditions. Fertiliser purchasing has also been delayed on most drystock farms due to the weather and price.


The tillage sector faces challenges this spring, with the profitability of many crops likely to be poor this year. Yields are likely to be lower in 2023 than 2022, Teagasc Crops Specialist Shay Phelan said. And, with significantly lower grain prices available, growers need to be realistic about what they can spend on their crops in 2023.

Organic manures, where available, offer a cheaper source of nutrition for crops and allowances must be made, when they are used, in the amount of chemical fertiliser applied. In addition to this, urea or protected urea are still better value than CAN, although some growers have experienced difficulties in applying such products this year.

Like grassland-based systems, the tillage sector hasn’t escaped the challenges posed by March, with delayed drilling set to impact yields. The options for spring drilling are running out; it is now too late to drill beans, oats and spring wheat, Shay explained, adding that history has shown that these will be late harvested and will yield poorly. Spring barley will be the only option for many at this stage. When planting such, compound fertilisers need to be placed or incorporated into the seedbed.

In addition to late sowing of spring crops, winter crops are also poor and have a limited potential to yield due to poor establishment and late fertilisation.

Fertiliser, lime use and soil fertility

Mark Plunkett, Teagasc Soil and Plant Nutrition Specialist, provided an update on fertiliser, lime use and soil fertility, pointing to a reduction in nitrogen fertiliser use of 14% in 2022, while phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) applications declined by 24% and 26%, respectively.

Although lime usage increased by 290,000t in the collective years of 2013 to 2022 when compared to 2003 and 2012 (inclusive), rising to 990,000t, a reversal has been witnessed in the number of soils with good overall soil fertility – classified as being at a soil pH >6.2 and being index 3 or 4 for P and K.

Back in 2019, 20.6% of soils tested had adequate levels of soil pH, P and K. The proportion of soils with good fertility declined to 18.5% in 2022 and this fails to account for the impact of reduced P and K applications in 2022, which will be picked up in soil testing carried out in subsequent years.

Given that 80% of soils in Ireland had inadequate levels of soil fertility in 2022, Mark explained that there is considerable scope to improve nitrogen use efficiency by correcting soil pH, P and K levels.