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Farmers encouraged to carefully manage their winter-feed requirements

Farmers encouraged to carefully manage their winter-feed requirements

An online meeting of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee (NFFSC) took place Wednesday, 24th January to update members on the livestock fodder and feed situation on farms. Challenges around the availability of straw was also a strong recurring message.

The meeting included updates from Teagasc on the situation from advisory feedback across both livestock and tillage sectors, as well as a growth update based on research and PastureBase Ireland data.

A presentation from Teagasc Livestock Knowledge Transfer specialists, Joe Patton and Pearse Kelly, outlined how the fodder situation is relatively stable on both dairy and beef farms. They highlighted that risk of shortages are dependent on spring weather and managing turnout of livestock to grass. It was estimated that 15% of farms could see significant deficits if February/March weather conditions are poorer than normal. They also pointed out that silage is available to purchase, and that some farmers had included the option of purchase fodder in their winter feed budgeting plans. Beef farms are judged to be in a relatively secure position, with feedback from the commercial farms participating in the knowledge transfer programmes that they are in a good position for feed at present.

Head of the Grassland Research Department in Teagasc, Michael O’Donovan, presented the grass growth figures for 2023, which were in line with the 10-year average. He particularly pointed to the grass growth over the winter period, which has yielded strong pasture covers on farms. This grass will be available for grazing once cows calve and are turned out. It was also pointed out that farmers should plan for early Nitrogen and slurry applications to improve spring grass production, while following with best practice guidelines on managing risks of nutrient losses.

Michael Hennessy, Head of Tillage Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc provided an update on the tillage crops in the ground over the winter, and the plans for spring planting. He urged growers to carefully inspect winter crops, which are patchy due to the rainfall levels over the winter. He said it might not be profitable to re-plant.

In terms of the upcoming spring crop planting season, he advised growers to maximise the planting of winter wheat up to the middle of February, spring wheat, beans, and oats and to explore forage market opportunities. Given that seed availability will be very tight or may be not available when needed, he advised farmers to assess their seed requirements as soon as possible and order from your merchant.

Following contributions from the wide range of stakeholders represented on the committee, the Chair of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee, Mike Magan, summarised the meeting highlighting a number of key messages and advice for farmers in the coming weeks and months. Overall, there is consensus of overall fodder availability to be sufficient, but that individual farmers need to assess and take early action around securing feed where necessary.

The concern of straw availability will give rise to farmers prioritising straw for calving and lambing. There are some reports of straw being imported, and the potential risk around issues such potential blackgrass seeds was highlighted as needing consideration when handling and moving imported straw. The committee discussed how greater ongoing attention to the national requirement for straw and ongoing monitoring of stocks in a similar way to fodder would be beneficial, as would the ongoing efforts to increase the overall tillage area. Potential for linkages between tillage and livestock farmers for supply contracts of forage crops is also an important option, with the Teagasc template for these contracts being a useful tool to establish these contract agreements.

The concern over future grass growth capacity amidst a reduction in fertiliser nitrogen inputs will require continued attention to maximising clover, soil phosphorus and potassium fertility and lime, as well as acting early to plan nutrient applications and secure appropriate fertiliser supply so that spring grass growth and silage yields in the coming season can be maximised.

The presentations made at the meeting are available here