Grass growth 50pc below norm as weather continues to bite

Teagasc dairy specialist George Ramsbottom at a farm walk at the Delahunty farm in Ballykinash, Carrig, Co Tipperary.
Teagasc dairy specialist George Ramsbottom at a farm walk at the Delahunty farm in Ballykinash, Carrig, Co Tipperary.
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Farmers were continuing to battle the hangover from the cold snap and Storm Emma this week, with grass-growth levels on the floor, large numbers of stock still housed, and cereal growers struggling to sow crops.

Thousands of cows remain housed across the south and west this week as lower than usual soil temperatures continue to hit grass growth.

Teagasc's Pasturebase service shows that grass growth is at 3-5kg/ha/day, which is less than half the normal growth of 10kg/ha/day for this time of year.

While farmers on drier land have managed to get cows out again this week, those with heavier and higher land are still a week or 10 days off full-time grazing.

Teagasc's George Ramsbottom said dairy farmers in the south midlands and south-east were contending with very low farm covers at the moment but grazing condition were improving.

While many farmers have calved cows back out on grass again, he said milk suppliers on higher ground were struggling with wetter ground conditions and lower grass growth.

It was a similar story in the south-west, where Teagasc's Joe Kelleher said farmers working very heavy land would not have cows out until the end of the month.

In contrast, Mr Kelleher said farms on free-draining soils had cows back out last week.

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However, with a lot of dry cows and heifers likely to remain housed into April, the dairy sector is facing significant extra costs this spring.

Given that the benefit of early grazing is estimated to be worth €2.70/cow/day on the average dairy farm, herds with 70 calved cows still in the yards at this stage are facing additional costs of around €200 per day or €1,400 per week.

Calf prices have also taken a hit as a result of the poor weather. Tom McCarthy of Cork Marts said the plainer calves were harder to sell, with fewer farmers in the market for them.

Friesian bulls for shipping were still making €70-120/hd, with stronger Friesian bulls selling for €150-160/hd.

Meanwhile, the cold snap has put a stop to activity on the tillage front. Michael Hennessy of Teagasc said the main activity in the fields this week was the sowing of beans.

Close to 11,500ha of the crop are to be sown and farmers will be anxious to get planting completed as quickly as possible.

However, Mr Hennessy said ground conditions were wet in many parts of the south-east and he advised farmers to only sow where conditions were right. INHFA also said it is "too early" to tell the full extent of sheep losses incurred during Storm Emma.

While FBD Insurance said it can't give a "finalised number of claims" in relation to Storm Emma, it added: "If we were to compare the number of claims received to date with those received in the same timeframe following Storm Ophelia, we have received about 60pc less."

"A smaller number of higher claims appears to be a likely outcome from Storm Emma. The top counties so far for claims are Wexford, Wicklow, Waterford and Cork."

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