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Teagasc Fodder Survey July 2020 - National picture secure but 10% of farms have deficits

Over the last number of weeks, Teagasc advisors have completed almost 700 winter fodder budgets for drystock and dairy farmers nationwide. This was carried out as part of a new initiative to promote better feed security planning on livestock farms.

Budgets were completed using the fodder planning function in PastureBase Ireland www.pbi.ie and were collated by region:   

  • Midlands/North East: Cavan, Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Westmeath
  • South East: Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow
  • South West: Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick
  • North West: Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo

The national picture shows drystock farms reporting a moderate overall fodder surplus of 17% (total feed stocks minus total requirements for the sample farms), while dairy farms are similarly well placed at 12% overall surplus.

Feed budget data by region

Table 1 presents the data by region and farm enterprise.  It shows that dairy farms in the Midland North East region have a small deficit of 3.8% overall, equivalent to 6 days feeding in winter. This is consistent with the emergence of a short term drought issue earlier in the summer; nonetheless drystock farms in this region have remained in surplus.  All other regions report that farms in both enterprise categories have surplus feed, on average.

Table 1. Winter feed balance by region and enterprise July 2020

Enterprise Region Winter Fodder balance1 % Approx. Days Short
Dairy Midlands North East 96.22 6
Dairy North West 106.4 -
Dairy South East 118.1 -
Dairy South West 120.6 -
Drystock Midlands North East 113.6 -
Drystock North West 121.1 -
Drystock South East 123.5 -
Drystock South West 127.9 -

1Based on planned winter feed demand minus current feed stocks including projected 2nd and 3rd silage cuts
2 Simple (un-weighted) average of fodder balance per farm in sample

Farms with significant feed deficits

Previous experience of fodder shortages has shown that farms with deficits of greater than 20% at onset of winter face significant practical and financial difficulties feeding their stock. Despite the overall positive position reported in this survey, 9% of dairy farms had a deficit greater than 20% of winter requirements. The average deficit of this group was 85 tonnes Dry Matter (DM). Similarly, 12% of drystock farms had a deficit greater than 20% of winter requirements. The average deficit for this group was 33 tonnes DM.

There was no clear pattern of scale, location or enterprise to characterise farms with greater than 20% feed deficits. This indicates that individual farm management decisions, and not weather or land type issues, may be the primary factor determining feed budget balances.

It is unlikely that farms with feed deficits will face significant fodder availability problems this year given the national situation; however there is a significant risk to feed security in years of adverse weather conditions. It is recommended that farms in this situation develop plans to improve fodder balances by improving pasture productivity and adjusting whole farm stocking rate.  

Commenting on the results of the survey, Joe Patton, Teagasc Ruminant Nutrition Specialist said: ‘The survey shows that most farms are in relatively good position at the moment. The early summer drought impacted east Leinster dairy farms to some degree, but it is very manageable. Teagasc recommends carrying a rolling winter feed surplus of 25-30% to insulate against weather shocks and many farms are near that level. We still have a cohort struggling to balance the books for winter feed in a good year. It is very important that these farms take steps to improve their long term position.’    

Micheal O’Leary, Teagasc PastureBase said: ‘Silage makes up about a quarter to one third of total annual feed on most livestock farms so it is vital to plan ahead. The fodder budgeting function on PastureBase Ireland is a useful tool to help grassland farmers complete their feed budgets. It is worth considering, even if you are not currently measuring grass. Grass growth is good at present so farmers should take the opportunity to bolster feed reserves by taking out surplus silage, in line with grass cover targets for this time of year.’

Dermot McCarthy, Head of the Teagasc Advisory service said; ‘Having enough winter feed in the yard is a cornerstone of good livestock farming. This year’s fodder survey reports a positive position nationally, but as always, there is large variation around the average. We would encourage more farmers to complete their own fodder budgets each year, especially where farming circumstances are changing. Teagasc advisors are available to help.  Finally, Teagasc would like to thank the farmers who participated in the survey. ‘