Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Grass growth surge will boost farmer profits by €28/acre

Dr Emer Kennedy from Teagasc Moorepark taking the temperature of the soil during a Teagasc spring grazing walk on PJ O'Keeffe's farm at Callan, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore.
Dr Emer Kennedy from Teagasc Moorepark taking the temperature of the soil during a Teagasc spring grazing walk on PJ O'Keeffe's farm at Callan, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore.
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

The surge in grass growth this year will deliver a financial boost of up to €2,800 for a 100ac holding, Teagasc has estimated.

The research body confirmed that growth rates are running between 800kg/ha and 900kg/ha ahead of 2016 levels, which is worth in the region of €60-70/ha or €24-28/ac to the farmer.

For a 40ha or 100ac farm this level of return equates to an increase in income of between €2,400 and €2,800.

Micheál O'Leary, who heads up Teagasc's PastureBase unit in Moorepark, predicted that many farms will increase grass growth by around 1t/ha this year.

Last year dairy farmers grew an average of 13.9t/ha, with drystock farmers on 12.5t/ha. However, Mr O'Leary predicted that dairy farmers would grow at least 14.5t/ha this year and the average could go close to 15t/ha if there was a good autumn.

"We would predict that these averages would increase this year; however, it will depend on the next few months and weather conditions. There was a very good back end over the last two years," he said.

"Average growth for the country from PastureBase Ireland dairy farms is 65kg dry matter per hectare, with a demand of 53kg dry matter per hectare and a cover per cow of 202kg dry matter per livestock unit. So there is plenty of grass out there.

"Soil temperatures are at 18-20C across the country and there is plenty of moisture around now so growth should kick on again."

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However, Mr O'Leary cautioned that August is a vital month for building grass for the autumn and that good management would be vital.

This year has seen excellent growth on heavier soils. Mr O'Leary said Ballyhaise College in Cavan has grown 9.25t DM so far, with "excellent grazing conditions" since April. Growth rates have averaged 60-85kg DM/ha for much of the season.

Similar growth rates have been recorded on farms in the north-west region. Andrew McNamee, who farms with his father in Convoy, Co Donegal, said grass growth was running at 70-80kgs DM/ha up to last week. However, he said rates had fallen back this week due to the colder weather.

Further south, the Greenfield Farm in Kilkenny has grown 8,250kg DM/ha so far this year and current growth rates are averaging 60kg DM/ha.

Drought conditions

Meanwhile, Curtin's farm in Moorepark has grown 9t of dry matter this year so far. However, drought conditions in the south of the country have resulted in growth rates falling to 40-50kg DM/ha over the past three weeks.

While the lift in grass production was welcome, Mr O'Leary said farmers had to increase grass utilisation.

He pointed out that National Farm Survey data showed that just 5.5t of grass DM was being utilised on livestock farms and 7.8t DM on dairy farms.

A new four-year programme, Grass10, which kicked off in April, aims to increase grass utilisation to 10t of DM/ha on both dairy and drystock farms by achieving 10 grazings per paddock through the year.

A number of events, including farm walks, will be held this autumn to outline the goals of the initiative.

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