We all need to up our game on soil fertility

Teagasc grassland management specialist Michael O'Donovan addresses farmers at a Moorepark open day. Photo: O'Gorman Photography
Teagasc grassland management specialist Michael O'Donovan addresses farmers at a Moorepark open day. Photo: O'Gorman Photography

Peter Hynes

School summer holidays are well and truly upon us so our daughters Georgie and Becky are busy showing calves which is a great part of the farm here as it allows us extra family time in what is always a hectic schedule.

Farming is made so much easier when nature plays ball. In contrast to 2018's drought, growing conditions in Cork have been nothing short of near perfect for June and the start of July with growth measured at 111kg/dm/ha on our last grass walk.

Second-cut silage is done and dusted so having that out of the way by July 8 is a huge bonus and with 350 silage bales also in the bank we'll be sorted for fodder next winter. Milk supplies are 11pc up on 2018 for us we are 15pc up for June.

We hosted a group from the Idele Institute in France who were over for Moorepark 2019.

It is always good meeting farmers from around the world to get different views and while we had Bord Bia on farm explaining the merits of Origin Green to the farmers for Brittany, the key thing they were interested in was grass and our herd EBI.

Sometimes we probably don't fully appreciate how lucky we are and French farmers seem very envious of how much grass we can grow as they are very restricted in nitrogen usage and they seem to fully understand that cow type on an EBI system goes hand-in-hand with grass-based milk production.

It was an early start the following morning as we attended the Farmer Ambassador breakfast meeting at the Ornua/National Dairy Council marquee and there was certainly lots of food for thought after two hours in the company of farmers who have a fantastic passion for our dairy industry.

The Moorepark Open Day has to be the greatest showcase of Irish dairy farming so it wasn't surprising to see so many foreign visitors to this year's event which had a theme of 'Growing Sustainably'.

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But let's be honest, if they used 'Grass Is King' as a theme it would be the number one take home message.


All you need to do is speak to farmers from around the world to realise the unique advantage we enjoy over so many countries.

We have the best grassland research systems in the world and Teagasc need to be applauded for all they do and the wealth of information they provide us with.

The question is do we listen and, although we are the most carbon efficient dairy producer in the Northern Hemisphere, we must never forget we are a small island with little heavy industry so a vast amount of our overall emissions does come from agriculture.

I strongly believe we need to embrace the challenge ahead in reducing emissions and remain a global leader in sustainable dairy production .

Recent EPA recommendations stating that derogation farms should be obliged to have correct soil PH are 100pc correct.

We haven't listened to the Teagasc message on soil fertility as 46pc of Irish soils are deficient in lime.

It's a no-brainer to force that upon us with a payback of 4:1. And lets be honest, we all love buying machinery while we neglect what should be the number one farm investment - soil fertility.

If we want to progress we need to do the basics right and get the lime, P and K balance right so we reduce our nitrogen usage or at least get efficient use of what we do spread. If the soil PH is wrong, then you can assume 33pc of the nitrogen we spread is essentially being thrown in the bin.

But we can move so much faster than this as regards being more sustainable farmers.

The usage of CAN beggars belief and its days are numbered so why wait around. Should it not be removed from use at the end of the year? Let's face it, protected urea is an ideal replacement. Similarly, the splash-plate on the slurry spreader needs to be culled.

Now I'm as guilty as any of us for using the splash plate, but if we banned it then we'd have the double benefit of lower emissions and increased nitrogen utilisation.

We can argue these facts all day but the real question is do we fight change or do we embrace emissions reduction?

Indo Farming

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