Dairy: Grazed grass is key to surviving the milk crisis
Grass growth continues well below normal for this time of year on most farms away from the south of the country. The weather remains extremely cold by day and night with the average temperature recorded here beside us in Athenry for April reading just 7.4C, a massive 1.3 degrees below normal.
This is the third consecutive month of below normal temperatures so there is nothing normal about this year as it continues to be extremely challenging across every area including cow care, calf rearing, grass growth as well as our own health and well-being.
Grass is our only source of cheap feed for the dairy cow and is the one area where we have a competitive advantage over milk produced from grain fed cows. I believe the only way we can survive the low milk price of 2016 is to feed the cow as much grazed grass as possible. To graze it we must grow it and there is no doubt the missing ingredient continues to be heat. In the meantime we must ensure that there is enough Nitrogen available when the heat eventually arrives and in the knowledge that the lime, P and K status are already good.
To date this year we have spread 97 units of N per acre and our last application was Sul can with 5pc sulphur. We farm on free draining sandy soil and research has shown large increases in grass grown when 20 units per acre is applied from April onwards.
The ongoing milk price drops are unsustainable for any system and the only action we can take that is under our control is to reduce costs by feeding the cows as cheaply as possible.
We farmers, along with the farm organisations and milk purchasers, must work together to improve our lot as primary producers. This must involve rationalisation and amalgamation to increase our strength.
At EU level last year we saw them plunder a massive superlevy payment from Irish dairy farmers and what has been given in return?
This year the shocking level of import tariffs we pay on fertiliser has been highlighted, but no reductions achieved. The sanctions imposed on Russia have impacted us more than any other sector yet no support is offered.