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Independent.ie

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Alarm bells are ringing but weather data suggests we are over the worst

Gordon Warren from Rosdillig, Co Carlow was lucky enough to be able to get some ploughing done last week. Met Eireann says soil in most parts of the country is saturated and poorly drained. Photo Roger Jones.
Gordon Warren from Rosdillig, Co Carlow was lucky enough to be able to get some ploughing done last week. Met Eireann says soil in most parts of the country is saturated and poorly drained. Photo Roger Jones.

Mary Kinston

This year is shaping up as one that will be deeply etched in farmers' memories for all the wrong reasons.

Just like 2013 it's cold and we are running out of fodder, be it grass and/or silage, on the majority of farms.

Stress levels are high for man and beast. For much of the time it's just too damn wet. And then there is the potential cost of trying to pay your way out of this situation.

Whether it's cashflow worries, increased production costs or simply the logistics and organisation the situation demands, all these factors are mentally draining.

And this is on top of the usual heavy spring workload of feeding fodder and trying to minimise damage if cows do get out to grass.

I don't think many dairy farmers can last much more than the month in these conditions, so the only consolation is that we are all in the same or similar boat.

Last year, overall, was a dry year compared to the previous five, but on reviewing the situation I noted that over the past eight months (August to March) rainfall here in Kerry totalled 981ml.

For six of those eight months, rainfall exceeded 100ml per month.

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Once rainfall exceeds 100ml/month, alarm bells start ringing.

Our figure for the same eight months in 2012/13 was 963ml, with five months exceeding 100ml per month.

Looking at the figures in detail, rainfall from January to March this year was 360ml compared to 272ml in 2013 when February and March were relatively dry months in this patch of Kerry.

That's why we were able to keep cows at grass, instead of this year's cycle of in-out, on-off situation.

I also reviewed the spring soil temperatures and our averages were 6C for February and 6.5C for March compared to 4.5C and 7C in 2013.

As temperature determines the start of spring growth with little grass growth when it's below 6C, the writing was on the wall with these low temperatures.

In contrast, the 2017 figures were 7C for February and 9C for March.

It may seem a small difference, but the research shows that there is grass growth equating to an additional 13kgDM/ha/day for each degree rise in temperature between 8C and 15C and an additional 21kgDM/ha/day up to 20C.

Nutrients

If nutrients are not a limiting factor, an increase in the soil temperature to 11C could see growth rates increase to at least 39kgDM/ha/day.

So given the lack of grass growth in 2018 and 2013, it's interesting to review what happened to soil temperatures in 2013.

Here in Kerry, temperatures had plummeted to 3C on April 3, but had risen to 10C by April 10, 11C by April 17 and 12C by April.

The average for May was 11C.

This proves that things can turn around quickly which is what we need.

And while waiting for the weather to turn, we also need to keep an eye out for each other and not allow the stress and strain get the better of us.

Attending a discussion group meeting can be a big help if you are 'under the weather'. It will help you appreciate that the challenges are widespread and that there are plenty of people willing to lend a helping hand, even if it's just a simple bit of advice or a number of someone who can help.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in Co Kerry


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