Henry Walsh: Nitrates review will pose big issues for thousands of dairy farmers

Track record: Henry Walsh has gone from milking 50 cows with 230,000 litre of quota in 1996 to 250 cows and 1.2m litres.
Track record: Henry Walsh has gone from milking 50 cows with 230,000 litre of quota in 1996 to 250 cows and 1.2m litres.
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Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

So far so good. As we begin the month of May conditions continue to be favourable for dairy farming. The cows are milking very well with the entire herd averaging 2.1kg/ms/day.

We are still reaping the benefits of last summer's drought and exceptionally dry mild winter. Grass quality and quantity are excellent and not a blade of grass is being wasted under foot. Our AFC currently stands at 721 kg/ha (195 cow) with growth of 70 comfortably exceeding our demand of 55.

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We are grazing covers up to 1400 which is ideal in that the cows fill themselves easily while quality and dry matter are perfect. This week we will take out a paddock for reseeding. We will spread the woodchip from the pad and sow the grass seed on top without any tilling. Because of all the cow dung in the woodchip we will not spread any P or K only Lime.

I will go with just two varieties this time Abergain which is number 1 on the PPI index and Astonenergy which is very palatable. This is a 100pc tetraploid mix.

So far this year we have spread all Urea as our nitrogen source and now we will switch to protected Urea.

This is one of the recommendations in the Teagasc Climate Action Roadmap report to help us improve our carbon footprint and reduce fertiliser costs as the protected urea is cheaper than CAN which means that not alone is it better for the environment but also for our pocket. A winning combination.

We started breeding on May 3. We are intending to breed dairy AI for only four weeks this year and any cow with an EBI of 100 or less will get a beef AI straw.

We probably did not set the figure high enough as it only took out 12pc of the herd. We will settle at that for now with the agreement to also look critically at each cow as we are breeding for feet and udder problems.

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I am looking forward to a good breeding season as the cows are in good order and the more compact our 6 week calving becomes the easier it should be to maintain as cows have more time to recover after calving.

I attended the smart farming conference in Portlaoise last week. This was a superb day out with excellent speakers and the keynote speaker Dr Patrick Wall emphasised the importance of responding to consumer requirements while also farming in tandem with nature and the environment.

He said we should describe ourselves as being in the health business because people's health is inextricably linked to the food they eat.

Resistance warning

Dr Wall highlighted the responsibility we have in relation to antibiotic resistance.

He said no new antibiotic has been found in the last 40 years and that we need to avoid the practice of blanket treatment as it will lead to resistance.

I am aware of one Irish pig producer who is moving towards antibiotic free status by using Irish seaweed in the sow and piglets diet.

These are the type of innovators we need as the role of food producers increases in importance.

Of great concern to dairy farmers is the surprising emergence of the Nitrates review.

This has resurfaced much sooner than expected and requires urgent attention.

The derogation is being reviewed and there is talk of reducing the 170kg/ha threshold down to 130kg/ha.

This is a very serious development because while there are in the region of 7,000 farmers applying for derogation there are a massive 17,000 currently farming in the 130-170 bracket.

Also of great concern within the review document is the description of farmers above the 130 kg/ha as intensive.

Agriculture continues to be under the spotlight and we must use science based reports such as the Teagasc climate action roadmap which lists 28 different actions we can take to defend our position and improve our carbon footprint.

We should be proactive and embrace this report and use it as the foundation on which we build our futures while making people aware that not alone are we in the food business but also the health business.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son, Enda, and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran

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