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Lessons Learned from the Teagasc Heavy Soils Programme

The Teagasc Heavy Soils Programme was set up in 2011 to develop a network of dairy farms on poorly drained soils to act as a test bed for strategies and management practices that could be implemented to improve the efficiency and performance of farms dominated by such soils, which account for 30% of grasslands nationally.

Today, Teagasc has published a new booklet - ‘Lessons learned - key findings of the Teagasc Heavy Soils programme’. This new publication outlines the development of the participating farms over the last ten years. Its publication coincides with the takeover of Teagasc social media accounts today, by one of the participants in the Heavy Soils Programme, Danny Bermingham, to outline what is happening on his farm in County Clare.

The key focus areas of the programme to date have been land drainage design, soil characterisation & land management, soil fertility & nutrient use efficiency, grassland management and farm infrastructure. Optimisation of these elements is vital in improving the sustainability of such farms.

Since the beginning of the programme, herd size on the participating farms has increased by approximately 32% from the 2011 level, with a corresponding increase in milking platform stocking rate from 2.12 to 2.82 cows per hectare. Herd EBI has increased from €84 in 2011 to €139 in 2020.

The average output in terms of milk solids per hectare has increased from 850 kg per hectare in 2011 to 1,405 kg/Ha in 2020, an increase of 65%. Average gross output in value terms ranged from €2,935/Ha in 2016, when milk price was at its lowest to €4,530/Ha in 2018.

Grass production is measured by regular farm walks and recorded and managed using Teagasc Pasturebase. Annual grass production has shown a steady increase over the period of the programme. This level of production will need to be maintained to ensure sustainability and profitability of these farms. An on-going review of poorly performing paddocks allows for investment to be planned with regards to land drainage works, soil fertility improvements, reseeding and grazing infrastructure.

Patrick Tuohy, Manager of the Teagasc Heavy soils programme thanked the 10 farmers who are participating in the programme for their willingness to monitor, record and share information with regard to farm inputs, management practices, outputs and financial performance, as well as hosting on-farm events and visiting groups. He said; “the commitment of the farmers has facilitated detailed analysis of the farm systems over time and the development of solutions to common restrictions to efficiency and productivity on poorly drained soils. The openness of each farmer has been crucial to the sharing of information and lessons learned with other farmers, visitors and the wider public to support the drive for more sustainable farming practices on such soils in their respective regions. “

The full publication can be viewed at https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2021/teagasc-heavy-soils-programme--lessons-learned.php and more information on the programme available here www.teagasc.ie/heavysoils