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Friday 21 September 2018

Fodder shortage fears sparks panic buying amongst farmers

Grass growth has collapsed in the south and east of the country as growing fodder shortage fears leads to increased buying

Stock Image.
Stock Image.

Claire Fox and Martin Coughlan

Large numbers of cattle are being offloaded and farmers are back feeding stock as the scorching heat has burned off grass growth.

Mart entries in the east of the country were well up over the last week, and prices for plainer stock dropped by €70-80/hd, as farmers reacted to tightening grass supplies by offloading stock.

Threatened water supply cut-offs have compounded the problems on farms that are dependent on public supplies.

Irish Water has warned that night-time supply restrictions may be necessary to deal with a massive spike in demand. This could force farmers into drawing thousands of litres of water a day for stock.

Grass covers have plummeted across the country, with growth levels in many parts of the south and east dropping under 30kg/ha/day. This is back 50pc on average growth levels for this time of the year.

Highly stocked dairy and suckler units have been forced to feed additional concentrates and baled silage that was harvested during the growth surge in May to make up for the shortfall in grass.

Joe Patton of Teagasc said there was a real divergence in conditions between the west and northwest and the rest of the country.

While the west received around 40mm of rain for June, well below the 10-year average of 65mm, he said the east was already in drought.

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He pointed out that Grange got just 10mm of rain so far in June, compared to an average for the month of 70mm.

With serious soil moisture deficits reported in Waterford, Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny, grass growth has collapsed. Waterford-based Teagasc advisor Brian Hilliard said grass growth this week was likely to be in the 25-35kg/ha/day range and dropping.

He said farmers were already feeding silage bales and some were even considering opening silage pits.

Dairy farmers and beef farmers are also offloading cull cows and additional beef stock in an effort to reduce demand for grass.

An exceptionally big sale in New Ross on Saturday saw a lot of beef cattle from the dairy herd being sold, mart auctioneer Jim Bushe said.

Big sales were also reported in both Delvin Mart and Kilkenny Mart.

Although mart managers reported a steady cattle trade, Ringside data confirms that prices for plain stock were back 13-15c/kg, or around €70-80/hd.

Fears of further fodder shortages this winter have resulted in a frenzy of forward buying from tillage farmers.

Bobby Miller of the Irish Grain Growers Group (IGGG) said that 8x4x3 bales of barley straw had been forward sold for €44/bale, while wheaten straw is making €42/bale.

He said 4x4 bales are generally making €20 ex-field.

Whole-cropping

Mr Miller also maintained that some tillage growers had been approached by dairy farmers to sell cereals for whole-cropping.

Meanwhile, the warm weather is also impacting on tillage crops.

Potato crops along the east coast are being irrigated, while many late-sown cereal crops and beans are struggling.

Pat Minnock said late-sown spring barley crops were "short and thin" and the outlook for yields didn't look great.

"How bad is it? Nobody knows," he said.

Growers in east Cork report that late-sown spring barley is “losing tillers and in a bad state”. Crops of beans and beet that were planted late are also said to be struggling.

In contrast, the outlook for winter crops is better, with the harvest likely to be around 10 days earlier than normal. Growers in Cork report that the winter barley cutting could start there around July 10.

With soaring temperatures forecast for the remainder of the week, Denis Drennan, chairman of the ICMSA Farm and Rural Affairs Committee, called on Irish Water to communicate “early and frequently” with people in the event of there being water shortages or restricted supplies. 

“Water shortages are a huge issue for everyone, including farmers, and from a dairy farmer perspective, having adequate water supplies for our cows is a key animal welfare issue,” Mr Drennan said.

“The basic minimum need for a dairy cow is 120 litres per animal per day and that has to be available or the animals become distressed – we’re not talking in terms of milk production here; we’re talking about looking after the cows and our legal and practical obligations to do that.

“ICMSA know of farmers in Kilkenny who are paying in excess of €4,000 per annum in water charges who have now been told that there may be issues with their water supply.”

Mr Drennan said water supplies to farmers must be guaranteed.

An Irish Water spokesperson said arrangements would be put in place for farmers who are dependent on the public water supplies. Farmers with large numbers of livestock would be deemed “vulnerable customers” and alternate arrangements would be made where normal water supplies were restricted.

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