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Crop establishments, silage supplies and slurry storage pressures continue

Crop establishments, silage supplies and slurry storage pressures continue

The convening of the National Fodder and Feed Security Committee on April 9 heard that pressures relating to spring crop establishments, silage supplies and slurry storage are continuing to create significant challenges at farm level.

Addressing the committee, Michael Hennessy, Teagasc Head of Crops Knowledge Transfer, said that very little fieldwork has taken place on tillage farms since the committee last met on March 29.

“Although farmers on drier and lighter land have completed a small bit of planting, nothing has happened on areas where land is heavy. We are still looking at single digit figures (<10%) when it comes to the spring area sown so far,” Hennessy said.

Monday’s significant volumes of rain, he added, will further delay spring plantings, pushing fieldwork out until late April for those on heavy soils, as ground requires time to dry, thus limiting the cropping choices available.

“At that stage, some crops will no longer be an option. It is now too late for spring wheat, unless grown as a forage crop under contract to livestock farmer.

“Crop choices are now very farm specific. Tillage farmers need to sit down and look at the potential margin of a lower-yielding crop compared to spring barley. We know that spring barley seed is in tight supply and additional demand at farm level could add to this shortage, but farmers need to develop a cropping plan based on the size of their farm, potential yields, harvest dates and how much work they can get through when conditions allow,” he said.

Along with spring cropping challenges, Hennessy said that critical management tasks in relation to winter crops have yet to be completed in many instances, adding: “Warmer weather will drive growth, but ground conditions are still poor and there’s a huge volume of work to be completed on tillage farms once the weather permits.”

Grazing management performance

Dr Michael O’Donovan, Head of Grassland Science in Teagasc, provided an update on the grazing management performance of Irish farms this spring. He noted that grass supplies – as reflected in an average farm cover of 849kg DM/ha – are high for this time of the year.

On account of the wet spring and the resulting challenging ground conditions, the area grazed on farms measuring through PastureBase Ireland is just 65% - ranging from 0% to 113% on farms commencing their second rotation. Additionally, he noted that nitrogen (N) applications are well behind this year, with just an average of 38kg/ha of N applied (28kg/ha of N from chemical and 10kg/ha of N from organic manures) when conditions allowed in late January / early February.

On managing grass in the second rotation on the back of reduced grazings this spring, Dr O’Donovan said: “Farmers will have decisions to make to correct grass quality as part of the second rotation. For farms with high farm covers, they must focus on grazing lower covers (<1,400kg DM/ha) first and a percentage of the platform will have to be taken as surplus bales to correct grass quality.

“To re-build feed supplies and to ensure suitable crops of second-cut silage are saved, farmers should focus on an early harvest on May 15-20 for first-cut silage. For this to be produced, you’re looking at a nitrogen input of 100kg/ha or 75 units/ac.”

Dr Joe Patton, Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer at Teagasc, told the committee that ground conditions are continuing to pose challenges on dairy farms nationally, but “farmers are trying hard to get cows out to grass whenever possible” using techniques such as on-off grazing. Farmers practicing limited access grazing, he noted, are doing relatively well and are seeing milk protein content improve as a result of getting grass into the diet. In terms of the availability of fodder, he noted that advisors are receiving some but a limited number of queries to date, but slurry storage issues are continuing to be a problem on some farms.

Pressures on beef and other farms

Alan Dillon, Co-ordinator of the Teagasc DairyBeef 500 Campaign, also reported on the situation on beef farms nationally. He told the committee that farm-to-farm sales of fodder have increased over the past 10 days and farms in the west and north-west are now starting to come under pressure for fodder.

He added: “Fertiliser applications are behind on both grazing and silage ground and first-cut yields are inevitably going to be hit now. Slurry storage is also becoming a real problem on a lot of farms as ground conditions don’t allow spreading.”

Along with the issues being faced on tillage, dairy and drystock farms, Director of Knowledge Transfer at Teagasc, Dr Stan Lalor acknowledged that horticultural producers are facing challenges in terms of harvesting and establishing crops, slurry storage capacity is tightening on pig farms and, as a result of the limited fieldwork undertaken to date, farm contractors will face additional workload and pressure once the weather improves.

Dr Lalor briefed the committee on the measures Teagasc has introduced to support farmers through this challenging time, including a fodder register and farmer helplines.

Chair of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee, Mike Magan said: “This committee is the entire industry working together to find solutions. We have to make sure we have fodder in yards for people who need it over the next 10 days.” He thanked the committee members for their contributions and urged them to continue to work together to support farmers.

Access Teagasc’s presentation to the National Fodder and Feed Security Committee here.

Also read: Details of Fodder Transport Measures revealed