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Rebuilding fodder reserves is key priority for the months ahead

A challenging March has caused issues for dairy, drystock and tillage farmers, attendees heard at a recent meeting of the Fertiliser Sub-group of the National Food and Fodder Security Committee (NFFSC) in Teagasc Oak Park, County Carlow

Rebuilding fodder reserves is key priority for the months ahead

The meeting was convened at the request of the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, to provide a forum to explore and discuss the potential challenges around current weather conditions on fodder and grass availability, and to explore the readiness of the fertiliser supply chain to meet the fertiliser requirements that will arise in the coming months.

Amongst the overall advisory outcomes of the meeting, a strong focus for all farmers to plan for re-building fodder stocks on farms. All farms should plan and act now for appropriate fertilisation rates and harvest dates to ensure sufficient supply of high quality silage. Rebuilding fodder stocks in the order of 20% above normal winter requirements continues to be the advice to all farmers.

Relevant stakeholders attended the meeting from across the fertiliser wholesale and agri-retail sectors and from farm organisations. The meeting also included representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, agri-finance, agri-media and Teagasc.

Opening the meeting, Mike Magan, NFFSC Chair, highlighted the ongoing disruption and uncertainty around fertiliser availability and price, and also acknowledged that many farmers have found themselves in a position of having taken purchase decisions that were prudent with respect to securing product, but were made during high price periods. He also highlighted that the collective industry had worked successfully together to avoid any significant fodder or feed supply crisis over the past 12 months since the initial emergence of fertiliser supply chain challenges arising from the war in Ukraine.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine summarised that fertiliser sales data and reported  CSO import statistics indicate a significant reduction in the import of fertilisers for the period 1st August 2022 to end of January 2023, compared to previous years. They also highlighted the disproportionate reduction in phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) compared to nitrogen (N) within the overall reduction in fertiliser sales of products in 2022, and the potential risk of that trend on soil fertility in the long-term.

Input to the meeting from fertiliser wholesalers and retailers also confirmed that the fertiliser market was moving slower in terms of purchase and sales volumes compared to previous years. The message across the trade was that fertiliser stocks are available to meet demands for April. There is also availability of product for import to meet future requirements on farms, however, the potential for short-term supply challenges due to logistics may arise, depending on demand.

Input across the farm organisations highlighted the ongoing sense of frustration amongst farmers around fertiliser pricing remaining high.

A Teagasc delegation of Mark Plunkett, Michael O’Donovan, Shay Phelan and Pearse Kelly, outlined the current situation at farm level, touching on the topics of fertiliser usage, grass growth, crop plantings and fodder supplies.

Fertiliser, lime use and soil fertility

Mark Plunkett, Teagasc Soil and Plant Nutrition Specialist, provided an update on fertiliser, lime use and soil fertility, pointing to a reduction in nitrogen fertiliser use of 14% in 2022, while phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) applications declined by 24% and 26%, respectively.

Although lime usage increased by 290,000 tonnes in the collective years of 2013 to 2022 when compared to 2003 and 2012 (inclusive), rising to 990,000 tonnes, a reversal has been witnessed in the number of soils with good overall soil fertility – classified as being at a soil pH >6.2 and being index 3 or 4 for P and K.

Back in 2019, 20.6% of soils tested had adequate levels of soil pH, P and K. The proportion of soils with good fertility declined to 18.5% in 2022 and this fails to account for the impact of reduced P and K applications in 2022, which will be picked up in soil testing carried out in subsequent years.

Given that 80% of soils in Ireland had inadequate levels of soil fertility in 2022, Mark explained that there is considerable scope to improve nitrogen use efficiency by correcting soil pH, P and K levels.


The tillage sector faces challenges this spring, with the yield and profitability of many crops likely to be reduced this year, according to Teagasc Crops Specialist Shay Phelan. With significantly lower grain prices available, growers need to be realistic about what they can spend on their crops in 2023.

Organic manures, where available, offer a cheaper source of nutrition for crops and allowances must be made, when they are used, in the amount of chemical fertiliser applied. In addition to this, protected urea is still better value than CAN where it can be incorporated successfully into a fertiliser programme.

Like grassland-based systems, the tillage sector hasn’t escaped the challenges posed by the weather in March, with delayed drilling set to impact yields. Crops of beans, oats and spring wheat that are not drilled yet are likely to be late harvested and yield poorly. Any crops planted from now on should include compound fertilisers placed or incorporated into the seedbed where possible.

In addition to late sowing of spring crops, many winter crops have been affected by weather conditions and have a limited potential to yield due to poor establishment and late fertilisation.


Grass grown this year, as recorded through PastureBase Ireland, has declined by 25% - reaching 910 kg Dry Matter per hectare. This decline has largely occurred due to low growth rates in late February, Teagasc Head of Grassland Science Michael O’Donovan explained.

Weather conditions during the month of March resulted in grazing being negatively affected – with grazing days lost on heavy farms, leading to high levels of supplementation where grazing proved challenging.

With a lack of a window to spread in March, fertiliser application rates have also reduced by 25-30% relative to the previous four years, although slurry applications have been largely up to date from February.

As we approach mid-April, a decision needs to be made at farm level on closing silage ground, even paddocks that have not yet been grazed. The latter should provide quality feed if closed early and fertilised.


Although excellent grazing conditions in February promoted early grazing, leading to a significant silage-saving effect in most regions, the situation deteriorated  during March and early April, resulting in the rehousing of stock and silage feeding at a time of rising feed demand on many dairy farms.

Although Teagasc advisors report that grass supplies are plentiful, grazing has been much delayed in many counties. On silage reserves, the west and north is reported to be okay, but supplies are very tight in some areas of the east and south, with some farmers – especially those affected by the drought in 2022 - purchasing low quality silage at high costs.

Rebuilding fodder stocks is essential to reduce the risk of feed supply issues if drought occurs in the summer of 2023.


Although an increased number of beef farmers had stock at grass in February, saving on winter feed supplies, conditions over recent weeks have resulted in many returning indoors, Pearse Kelly, Head of Drystock Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc, outlined.

Highly stocked beef farms that fed silage during the drought last summer are now running very tight on fodder due to wet conditions. However, more typical, lower stocked beef farms do not currently have an issue with fodder supplies.

Like dairy farms, very little nitrogen fertiliser was applied on drystock farms over the month of March due to wet weather conditions. Fertiliser purchasing has also been delayed on most drystock farms due to the weather and price.

Rebuilding of fodder reserves across all grassland farms is now a priority for the coming months. Every farm should aim to have 20% fodder reserve over what would be ‘normal’ winter requirements.