Ireland facing new challenges as we prepare to escape from those old milk quota shackles
Irish agriculture is energised by the prospect of an explosion in milk output once quota is abolished in 2015. Now that world milk prices are rising there is a growing consensus that Irish dairy farming can prosper when freed of the quota shackles. But rapid expansion brings new challenges, including the threat of a superlevy between now and 2015.
Last week the Irish Grassland Association held conferences in Cork and Meath on post-quota challenges.
While milk price will always be crucial, the meetings stressed that the key to long-term wellbeing in Irish dairy farming will be low-cost production off well-managed grass.
Teagasc has bought big-time into grass-based dairying for Ireland. Increasing numbers of farmers are also adopting grass measurement and implementing the Teagasc budgeting blueprint for season long grass management.
But there is still a large group of dairy farmers, including winter milk producers, who consider themselves good users of grass, but for whom milk yield takes priority over grass issues. Many of these herd owners feel that they are restricted by land availability and are stocked too tightly for implementation of the full Teagasc grass package.
Not so, insisted the Teagasc dairy specialists at the Grassland meetings. Joe Patton said that even tightly stocked producers of winter milk should aim to get the cows out to grass in February. Apart from the health and milk constituent benefit arising from grass inclusion in the diet, the February start gives more time for early grass regrowth which leads to a better flow of grass throughout April and May.
Niall O'Loughlin, of Nurney, Co Kildare, with 140 cows of which 50 are autumn calving, told the Meath meeting that the adoption of grass measurement and budgeting has led to a saving of €6,000 on feed and fertiliser.
For the past two years he has put the 50 autumn calvers to grass on the first week of February. His land is free draining but Niall will manage the early grazing to minimise pasture damage. This can mean using an electric fence to provide 12-hour grazing blocks or maybe even shorter grazing spells in wet weather. Later in the season Niall has increased paddock size to allow 36- and 48-hour grazing. He said that this gives heifers a better chance to graze their fill. At all times he has measured the available grass. If supply is short, cow intake is topped up. If grass is in surplus, a paddock or more is cut for big bale silage.