Credit to the IFA for its native cereals initiative
As I travelled through a potato growing heartland between Navan and Drogheda in recent days I marvelled at how well this year's potato crops look.
The variable weather may not have been ideal for the growing and harvesting of grass but to the untrained eye it looks to have had a positive effect on the potato crop.
Seeing these crops reminded me of an American magazine article I read recently about the six stages of food wastage.
The potato was described as top of the class in being America's most popular vegetable. Of the total crop harvested in the US, the article stated that 77pc was sold by the farmers for human consumption.
The remaining balance left farms in the form of 'waste' or livestock feed.
I am not sure of the relative figures here in Ireland but I would estimate that the percentages are similar.
While it is often seen as a last resort by potato growers, the livestock feed sector provides them with an outlet for excess or low grade potatoes.
Without this option, growers would be forced to dispose of these potatoes for no return, or worse again, at big expense. The last remnants of the 2015 potato crop have been appearing on some beef farms over the summer months.
It is crucial that these potatoes are checked for sprouting before they are purchased as this can result in the poisoning of animals fed.
There is also an obvious risk of choking when animals are fed whole potatoes - particularly when fed at grass.
An option for better utilisation would be to chop and pit available potatoes along with suitable forage or absorbent.
The winter barley harvest is nearing completion and has proven to be one of huge disappointment for cereal farmers - due to reduced yields and price in comparison to 2015 levels.
This is the third consecutive season of reduced grain prices at harvest time, which is putting the cereal sector under huge pressure.
A disappointing trade in straw has also impacted on the margins per hectare.
The initiative by the IFA grain committee encouraging the widespread use of native Irish cereals is very commendable.
The committee has encouraged the feed trade and livestock farmers to reassess their feed ration ingredients and try to use a greater level of native Irish cereals.
The concept of an 'all-Ireland' ration is designed to increase the use of Irish energy and protein sources.
Obviously, we will still remain net importers of feed ingredients but increasing the use of Irish grains and proteins can only be a positive for both livestock and tillage farmers.
In the past, high cereal grain diets have been misconstrued as being both costly and posing health risks to the animals being fed.
Nowadays, there are a range of both harvesting and processing techniques that result in safe grain storage and feeding.
The option of whole- cropping a cereal can provide an additional or alternative forage source on farms.
Wholecrop can fall into one of three categories: fermented; high dry matter; and alkaline.
Each of these methods have their individual merits and will often depend on crop type, stage of maturity, weather conditions, crop yield and storage facilities. In the case of intensive beef finishing, where maize silage is not available, wholecrop can provide an excellent forage source.
When it comes to cereal grains, the view among some livestock farmers is that it can be:
* Hard to source off the combine
* Difficult or risky to store
* Expensive to process and preserve
* Create extra workload
As with wholecrop, there is a wide range of processing, storage and feeding options available with all cereals.
The on-farm processing and preserving of grain also falls into three main categories: crimping; acid treatment; and alkaline treatment.
Options are also available to dry and roll the grain or to cook and flake the cereal.
Again, the choice of treatment and storage method can depend on grain maturity, grain moisture, livestock category being fed, storage facility and length of storage period.
The main hurdles involved in the 100pc Irish ration concept is in the requirement to supply sufficient digestible fibre and an appropriate protein source.
The increased availability and inclusion of field beans will go some of the way towards meeting the demand for protein and reducing our reliance on imported sources.
Oats can provide a viable option as a digestible fibre sources in many beef rations.
Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth
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