Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

A farm that is a 'biological Ferrari' with stocking rates of 10 cows/hectare

With a land area that is more than 120 times the size of Ireland, and a population density that is just one third of ours, Brazil is often cited as a country with limitless agricultural potential. While 66pc of Ireland is farmed, the figure is half this in Brazil, indicating the huge untapped potential, even if massive areas need to be left unused for environmental reasons.

However, the founders of Leitissimo were very particular about the region that they wanted for their dairy enterprise, and travelled over 100,000km around Brazil to look at the options.

The area they settled on is about one third the size of Ireland at the intersection of the Bahia, Goias and Minas Gerais states at 900m altitude. It has an average rainfall of 1,500mm, a minimum temperature of 15C to allow grass to grow year-round, a maximum average temperature lower than 30C and humidity levels of less than 75pc.

The result is a region that can turbo-charge biomass production, with the farms producing an eye-watering 45t/ha of drymatter (DM) of trefoil tropical grasses. While almost half of the annual water requirement is provided for by irrigation, and the trefoil grasses are only 83pc as nutritious as the perennial ryegrasses (PRG) that Irish and Kiwi farmers depend on, Mr Lyndsay estimates that on a PRG equivalent, the farms are producing over 37tDM/ha.

"Imagine you are driving a biological Ferrari - that's what this is like. Not only that - you are starting with a blank canvass - you don't inherit any layout, so you get to pick where you place every roadway, drinking trough and access point," expalined Mr Lyndsay.

As a result the farms are stocked at a massive 10 cows per hectare, with six 550 cow herds each operating on 57ha irrigation-point units. Despite the massive productivity of the Leitissimo farms, the land that the company has invested is only costing one tenth of the €24,000/ha that New Zealand dairy land is now commanding.

However, Mr Lyndsay and the 11 other shareholders behind Leitissimo had to start from scratch with their holding. "The farm is at the end of a 50km dirt road. It didn't have any electricity or irrigation, and we had to clear land to create the pastures. We weren't clearing rainforest, and there is also a proviso that you leave at least 20pc of your holding untouched with natural vegetation. We plan to leave 60pc untouched," he said.

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