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Sustainable Dairy Expansion – special issue of TResearch for Teagasc Moorepark’15

Sustainable Dairy Expansion - The summer issue of TResearch, Teagasc’s research and innovation magazine, is dedicated to ‘Sustainable Dairy Expansion’ specially produced to mark the end of the EU milk quota regime. “This special issue of TResearch focuses on the technologies that will help dairy farmers to grow more sustainable farm businesses, overcome the challenges of milk price volatility and provide an adequate reward to their farm families. Additionally, these technologies will ensure that milk production systems will continue to meet the highest international standards of food safety and quality, be animal welfare friendly and environmentally sustainable,” explains Pat Dillon, Head of Teagasc’s Animal &.Grassland Research and Innovation Programme.

Sub-optimal soil fertility costing dairy farmers dearly
Good productive soils are the foundation of any successful farm system and key to growing enough high-quality grass to feed the herd. Soil tests submitted to Teagasc indicate that soil fertility levels have declined dramatically in recent years and, currently, 90% of grassland soils have less than optimum balance of pH, P and K status. In particular, with the low levels of lime being applied, it is no surprise that over 60% of soils sampled on dairy farms have soil pH that is sub-optimal. “These very low levels of soil fertility pose a significant threat to achieving increased productivity and profitability on dairy farms”, says David Wall.

“With fertilizers becoming more expensive, it is vital that each kg of fertilizer is managed as efficiently as possible with maximum return in grass growth and milk production. To achieve this two steps are required: Taking soil samples and using these results to plan fertilizer and lime applications. “

Developments in the Pasture Profit Index
The proportion of grassland reseeded in Ireland is very low, meaning a large opportunity to maximise our natural advantage is being lost. Teagasc’s recently launched Pasture Profit Index (PPI) can help grassland farmers identify the most appropriate perennial ryegrass cultivars for their farm. The index is comprised of six sub-indices and the performance values are based on data collected from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s grass evaluation trials.

With the exception of three varieties (Clanrye, Rodrigo and Solas), all varieties in the recommended list have PPI values calculated. Teagasc’s Michael O’Donovan explains: “The PPI index values range from €54/ha to €208/ha per year for the 31 cultivars with the data available”. The sub-indices present the opportunity to select cultivars for specific purposes. For example, if selecting a cultivar for intensive grazing, the emphasis would be placed on seasonal DM yield and quality, with less importance placed on the silage performance.

“The use of the total economic merit system enables the identification of cultivars that will provide the greatest economic contribution to ruminant grazing systems. The index illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of individual cultivars. It is expected that it will encourage increased usage of the recommended cultivar list and greater uptake of economically superior cultivars in the future,” says Michael O’Donovan.

MIR to predict milk quality and animal characteristics
Accurate genetic evaluations rely on the routine availability of a large quantity of accurate data on individual animals. Important traits are often not considered in breeding programmes, because of the cost or inconvenience associated with their measurement. Milk quality and animal feed intake are two such traits, which normally require laborious and expensive measurement techniques prohibiting the collection of a large quantity of individual cow data from commercial farms. Both suites of traits impact farm profit and, thus, must be considered within the framework of holistic, profit-based breeding goals such as the Economic Breeding Index (EBI). Teagasc researcher, Sinead McParland and colleagues have been investigating if mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy, a technique used for routine laboratory analysis of milk fat, protein and lactose content, could be used to predict milk quality and animal characteristics.

“Since all individual cow and bulk tank milk samples are subjected to milk MIR analysis, a huge bank of phenotypic data is now being generated at negligible additional cost. These data may have applications in decision support systems for routine day-to-day farm management or use in breeding programmes”, says Sinead McParland.

The summer issue of TResearch is available online at: http://www.teagasc.ie/publications

The Teagasc Moorepark dairy open day takes place tomorrow, Wednesday 1 July in Fermoy, County Cork.  Twitter #Moorepark15