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Wednesday 12 December 2018

The more grass I grow, the more money I can make - top beef farmer

5 steps to improve soil fertility on your farm

Have soil analysis results for the whole farm and soil sample every two years
Have soil analysis results for the whole farm and soil sample every two years
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

In the words of Ger Dineen, who was awarded the Beef Grassland Farmer of the Year in 2017, “the more grass I grow, the more money I make”.

Currently, it is estimated that about 5.6t grass DM/ha/year are utilised nationally on drystock farms according to the Teagasc National Farm Survey.

Data from the best commercial grassland farms and research indicate that the current level of grass utilised on drystock farms can be increased significantly, to greater than 10t DM/ha, where 14t DM/ha is grown and utilised at 75pc.

Optimising soil fertility, improving grazing infrastructure and reseeding adequately are all required to achieve higher levels of grass production and utilisation.

To achieve greater change in the amount of grass utilised, farmers will need to upskill their grazing management practice according to John Maher of Teagasc.

“Improving soil fertility is the first step in increasing grass growth on you farm” said John Maher.

“Farms should be set up to grow grass – not silage” said John Maher of Teagasc
“Farms should be set up to grow grass – not silage” said John Maher of Teagasc

Five steps to improve your soil fertility

  1. Have soil analysis results for the whole farm and soil sample every two years
  2. Apply lime as required to increase soil pH up to the target pH for the crop
  3. Aim to have soil test P and K in the target Index 3 in all fields
  4. Use organic fertilisers as efficiently as possible
  5. Make sure the fertilisers used are properly balanced

Ger Dineen reseeds 10pc of the farm a year saying it’s a simple decision. “I’d see far more profit after investing in reseeding than saving my money in the bank, it makes no sense not to correct an underperforming paddock”.

After soil testing, Ger sprays off the old sward at the start of August. He then mows off after five days for bales or tight grazing. He then uses the Spring Harrow after two weeks and then applies lime and fertiliser.

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Last year’s varieties, Abergain, Aberchoice and Drumbo were chosen using the Pasture Profit Index. Clover will be included this year according to Ger. The seed is set with a Vicon spreader at a rate of 14kg/ac.

Ger rolls after sowing and sprays seedlings for weeds especially docks. Some 27 units of N/ac is applied in early September and then grazed once in mid-September.

“Grazing infrastructure in relation to roadways, paddock layout and water supply systems will be important in terms of overall herd performance as it can allow more days at grass and therefore greater profitability,” said John Maher of Teagasc.

“Farms should be set up to grow grass – not silage” said John. “Using a rotational paddock grazing system there should be 7-9 paddocks per grazing group on your farm,” he said. Paddocks should be adequate for herd size and the shape 2:1 in length: width.

“Improving the grazing infrastructure will see you benefitting from more grass in the diet from a longer grazing season,” said Ger, crediting 80pc of his U16 month old bulls live weight to grass.

“Using 2-3 day paddocks can see them growing 25pc more grass in the season using temporary polywire to do so at €0.30 to €0.40/metre, it’s very cheap,” said John.

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