MUCH of the milk produced in Ireland comes from farms where the soils can be classified as heavy.
Heavy soils add complexities to the production system that are aggravated by inclement weather conditions. The adoption of key technologies, including land improvement strategies, grass management, compact calving, optimum stocking rates, risk management, genetic improvement, heifer rearing and low cost, labour- efficient farm infrastructures will be needed to make farming on these soils sustainable in the long term.
To facilitate this, a new research programme has been set up to explore the most cost effective and efficient means of increasing profitability on heavy soils. Seven monitor farms are participating in this programme across the South West Region and rresearch findings from Solohead drainage trials will be an integral part of the programme.
The programme is a collaborative project between Kerry Agribusiness, Dairygold, Tipperary Co- Op and Teagasc's research and advisory personnel.
Seven farmers have agreed to participate in the programme. Their farms were selected taking into account the requirement for a range of challenging soil types, regional distribution, and the potential for sustainable profitability.
Key physical measurements taking place on these farms include:
1. Grass grown and utilised.
Grass production data is recorded weekly by the participating farmers on a web based farm package. The heavy farms grew approx 9.5 tonnes of grass dry matter per hectare. There was on average 7.72 tonnes/ha of grass dry matter utilised (compared to 9.7 on the Kerry Agribusiness monitor farms on dry soils). This sustained a stocking rate of 2.1 cows/ha on the milking block area.
2. Ryegrass on heavy farms
The average ryegrass ground cover on the farms is 26%. A two-year old reseed that is well managed and fertilized could have a cover of 70% - 80%; a poor, old, permanent pasture could be as low as 3%. Establishing and maintaining ryegrass in heavy soils is challenging. Dealing with soil compaction caused by machinery and poaching damage will also need to be addressed.
3. Soil fertility results on heavy farms
Soil analysis on the heavy farms showed that 80% of soils on these farms are deficient in lime. This combined with low results and for both P and K may be an explanation for the low ryegrass content (50% of the samples were deficient). It is clear that there are major challenges and costs involved in improving these results.
This five year project, which started last year, will apply and test the most appropriate technologies across a range of challenging soil types to ensure efficient and profitable farming.