Fascinating world of silage is changing all the time and it remains a massive business
It is said that the ladies around the farms prefer maize silage to grass silage because it is less smelly.
But, be it smelly or not, it is the grass silage which is dominant across Ireland. We make an estimated 20 million tonnes of the stuff each year. Silage is the flip side of grass, which, some argue, is our prime farming asset. Maize silage, in contrast, comes in at a mere 1m tonnes.
Silage is big business for Irish farming, bigger than the actual grain harvest. In Northern Ireland, with its longer winter feeding season, silage makes an even bigger impact in the farming calendar.
All the time, the approach to silage and silage making is changing in response to the changing attitudes and needs of the industry.
Not that long ago, the start of the silage season renewed a hot debate on silage additives and silage preservatives. This was an important market as manufacturers of acids, sugars, inoculants and enzymes jostled for their share of the action.
The industry and farmers used to wait for the definitive Teagasc approved list, which later became just a listing of the products with prices and suppliers. Selling the additives and preservatives must have been profitable if the number of suppliers on the Teagasc listing was anything to go by.
Now, according to Dr Padraig O'Kiely of Teagasc Grange, less than 5pc of grass is treated with anything at ensiling. Teagasc hasn't even published a listing of additive products for the past six years.
The big change has been driven by the silage contractor. The acid-based additives damaged their machines and all additives were only a nuisance which delayed their mad gallop from field to field. The fact that silage clamps were fast filled and covered helped to make better silage in the absence of preservatives of additives.