Farmers race to bank fodder as grass growth rates rocket
Producers cut thousands of acres as weather takes welcome turn
Thousands of acres of grass have been knocked for hay and silage this week as farmers try to claw back valuable ground in the fight to secure next winter's feed supply.
Glorious sunshine and daily grass growth rates exceeding 100kg dry matter per hectare have put a pep in the collective step of the nation's farmers as they bank precious fodder reserves.
In a complete change of fortunes for farmers, grass supply is now exceeding demand by as much as 40pc, according to figures from the Teagasc Pasture Base system.
"If you put it on prescription you couldn't ask for better. We had huge growth last week and the week ahead will see a huge amount of fodder saved," remarked Roy O'Brien of Galway IFA.
"The weather has really given everyone such a boost. There's been a real pick up in confidence among farmers and it's all still to play for at this stage," he added.
However, agricultural advisers have warned farmers not to get complacent as fodder shortfalls of 20-40pc are still predicted on some farms.
Cork-based dairy adviser Mike Brady said many of his clients had a predicted fodder shortfall of 20-30pc for the winter ahead.
"Farmers have projected deficits because they are carrying extra dairy stock and the first cut of silage was light," he said.
"But they are cutting more silage than they initially projected because growth is so good."
In the Duhallow region, Julian O'Keeffe of ICMSA maintained that while farmers had harvested quite a bit of silage, some were still facing a shortfall for next winter.
"No-one would say they're safe and going on the Teagasc fodder surveys we've done, some are looking at a 20pc plus deficit in some areas," he explained.
"Where farmers have big bills and can't get their hands on fertiliser, the deficit could be 30-40pc."
Early analysis of the Teagasc national fodder survey would suggest that while farmers have saved large amounts of silage, there is a considerable bulk of next winter's fodder still in fields.
Teagasc nutritionist Siobhán Kavanagh urged farmers to remain focused on maximising their fodder supply.
"Farmers have made quite a bit of good quality silage, but there is still a lot of silage to be made to reach targets," she maintained.
"It looks like farmers are relying a lot on silage that will be made in the next four to six weeks. To get that silage, farmers will need to focus on getting fertiliser spread, along with closing and taking out paddocks where growth is good enough," Ms Kavanagh said.
"Don't take your foot off the pedal now," added Teagasc's head of drystock Pearse Kelly.
"If your plan was to make a second cut, stick with it. Build up your silage reserves. This is the year to do it."
Mr Kelly warned that there was evidence of grass being wasted on some farms as animals were allowed to graze high covers, instead of closing the paddocks for silage.
"It's crazy to graze meadows that could be saved in the shed," he maintained.
Grass growth is forging ahead on heavy soils where soil moisture is not a limiting factor. In contrast, dry soils are now beginning to show signs of drought.
Soils with poor fertility are performing below par, with lime, phosphorous and potassium imbalances restricting growth.