Grass growth collapse hits farmers for €360m

Drystock losses running at an average of €3,200 per farm and harvest worries mount

Current dry weather is causing problems for farmers who rely on solely on rainfall for grass and crop growth (Dan Law/PA)
Current dry weather is causing problems for farmers who rely on solely on rainfall for grass and crop growth (Dan Law/PA)
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

The collapse in grass growth has cost dairy and drystock farmers close to €360m over the last six months, while the continuing heatwave is causing havoc for vegetable and cereal growers.

Figures from the Teagasc PastureBase service put the fall-off in grass growth for the first six months of the year at almost 1.5 tonnes per hectare.

This has cost dairy farmers €250/ha or around €100/cow, according to Teagasc calculations.

With more than 1.4 million cows in the national dairy herd, losses as a whole exceed €140m.

Losses on drystock farms are estimated at €108/ha, or €3,200 for the average 30ha farm.

With around 70,000 beef and sheep farms nationally, this converts to an overall loss of around €220m.

And with no respite from the scorching weather forecast over the coming week, tillage farmers are also facing serious difficulties. Potato growers are struggling to keep crops irrigated and are warning of massive yield losses on fields that are not getting water.

The cereals harvest is also badly affected, with some tillage advisors predicting that yields will fall by 0.75-1t/ac on average or by 500,000t to 700,000t in total.

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This would represent a loss of €90m-120m to the sector.

Although crops of winter barley have yielded up to 4t/ac in the south, poor grain fill has seen yields dip as low as 2.5-2.7t/ac in some instances.

Crops in south Tipperary yielded 3.6-3.7t/ac at around 14-15pc moisture, and 60-64kph, while winter barley yields in Wexford have ranged from 3.5t/ac to 4.0t/ac.

However, there is mounting concern for spring cereals, with late-sown crops on dry soils under severe drought stress at this stage.

The yield potential of spring crops has already been severely hit, and could be back by as much as 50pc. Tipperary-based farm consultant PJ Phelan predicted that overall yields in the cereal harvest will be back by as much as a tonne to the acre.

"I would have put the drop in yield at 0.5t/ac last week but the figure is now creeping up and could hit 1t/ac unless we get rain," Mr Phelan said.

Concentrate feeds

With grass growth rates having fallen to between 10kg/ha/day and 20kg/ha/day, feed mills are flat out trying to keep concentrate feeds and coarse rations pumped out.

Lakeland Dairies stated that compound feed sales were running 25pc ahead of last year on a week-to-week basis.

Merchants in the southern half of the country are under even more pressure, with one miller claiming that current output was more like the month of November than July, and was running 30-40pc ahead of normal.

Mills in the Border counties are currently supplying their hard-pressed counterparts in Leinster and Munster, such is the level of concentrate feed demand on livestock farms

In addition, a spokesman for Dairy Industry Ireland confirmed that it has sought a derogation from the current tachograph regulations, which limit the number of hours a truck driver can spend behind the wheel, in order to meet the unprecedented level of feed demand on farms.


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