Feed shortages leave farms in parts of North close to crisis point

Farmers in Fermanagh and Tyrone struggling with poor second-cut silage

Gavin Gallagher with the Junior Heifer Champion Cup and Reserve Champion Cups at the Milford Mart 50th Anniversary Weanling Show and Sale. Photo Clive Wasson
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

A sharp increase in the volume of feed heading North has been reported over the last fortnight as farmers in Fermanagh, Tyrone and parts of Derry and Armagh struggle with housed stock and poor second-cut silage.

Farm advisors in the western counties of Northern Ireland maintained that conditions on many farms were becoming very difficult.

"Most of the dairy and suckler herds west of the Bann have been housed, and second-cut silage has not been made on many farms," a College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) advisor who did not wish to be named told the Farming Independent.

"It hasn't been officially classified as a crisis, yet, but the situation is really serious in much of the west (of Northern Ireland)," he added.

While east Ulster has not been as badly hit, the CAFRE advisor said that many parts of north Antrim had also been affected.

"A lot of men are sitting there with second-cut silage they can't get at, or third-cut silage in the case of the dairy farmers," he explained.

"Guys got cutting last week on one or two of the good days, but they had to pull out of fields because the conditions were just too bad."

As with farmers in the Republic, Northern livestock owners are now faced with the dilemma of what to do with slurry tanks that are quickly filling.

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"Farmers can't get slurry out and the closed period for slurry spreading starts on October 17," the advisor pointed out.

Feed traders in the Republic report strong demand from farmers in the North for straw, sugar beet and fodder beet.

One trader in the Athy area of Kildare said he had sold significantly more sugar and fodder beet in the North this year.

He is charging a delivered price of €50-55/t for the beet, most of which is going to dairy farmers.

Maize growers along the Border also report that farmers from the North are willing to pay a €5/t premium for crops.

Louth-based nutritionist Gerry Giggins cautioned that the problems being faced by farmers in the North will need careful managing over the next month.

"A lot of farmers have second-cut silage that is very low in feeding quality, and there could be problems with ensilability and contamination," Mr Giggins said.

He said the difficulties faced by Northern farmers had been exacerbated by Brexit as the fall in the value of sterling had made alternate feed sources such as beet pulp, soya hulls and citrus pulp more expensive.

A shortage of straw in Britain and in the South had further aggravated the situation, Mr Giggins said.

The main driver of the feed demand in the North has been from the dairy sector, and they have pushed the price of fodder beyond the reach suckler and sheep farmers.

The high price of milk this year means that dairy farmers have kept every cow milking through the back end of the year.

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