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Wednesday 12 December 2018

Henry Walsh: Risk analysis now an essential tool for all farmers

Jim Gibbons, Germinal Seeds, host Robert Power and Joe Hand of Teagasc at a ''Closing the Winter Feed Gap' at Dualla, Cashel, Co. Tipperary. Photo O'Gorman Photography.
Jim Gibbons, Germinal Seeds, host Robert Power and Joe Hand of Teagasc at a ''Closing the Winter Feed Gap' at Dualla, Cashel, Co. Tipperary. Photo O'Gorman Photography.
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

Normal weather has returned here in Galway. The searing heat wave has retreated, but similar to Storm Ophelia and The Beast from the East its legacy will remain.

Grass growth has jumped dramatically to over 70kg/ha/day of dry matter due to the rain and we now have adequate moisture for optimum growth.

This has lifted farm cover from 472kg/dm/ha last week to 672kg/dm/ha or 167kg per cow this week, with a target AFC of 300kg per cow by the end of August. Milk has bounced back up to 20 litres with the rain as the cows are now eating very clean, lush new growth possibly on a par with spring grass.

Protein is also recovering for the third time this year to 3.65pc with fat high at 4.80pc and total milk solids at 1.75 kg/cow daily on 3kg meal.

I spent a little time looking back at this years figures up to July 31.

We sold 266kg/ms per cow similar to 2017. We fed 560kg/meal fed per cow up from 340kg in 2017 resulting in an additional cost of €57 per cow.

We fed 1 round bale of silage per cow during the drought an additional cost €28.

These are the obvious costs but there were also hidden costs such as machinery and labour before ever we mention the human cost.

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But can we hope to achieve gains going forward due to the drought. I believe we can as the drought had a negative impact on grass but a very positive impact on the soil. For example, some areas were showing wet patches due to waterlogging since August 2017 with grass growth well down and in some instances never grazed.

These areas have been released by the severe moisture deficit and productivity could improve for years to come.

Usually growth after a drought is very strong and grass will be of excellent quality resulting in improved productivity and lead to the possibility of harvesting some more badly needed winter feed.

I think it is vitally important that we are prepared to avail of any opportunity that comes our way. We need to make full use of our own resources, and particularly grass.

As I have said before it is our only competitive advantage and it was never made as clear to me as this year with the cost of meal and the workload sucking most if not all of the profit from July milk production.

This potential is in our own hands and while there will often be extreme challenges, time and money spent on Lime, P and K, and reseeding will always give a return.

We have fertilised all the out farms stronger than normal and as of now over 50pc of the fields are closed for second cut bales. The silage will be cut in late August and I expect to gain at least two bales per cow of very good quality feed.

We will then fertilise again in early september to maximise the grass on the farm and perhaps consider some zero grazing some of it to the milking cows in November.

Expansion

On a related note, I take issue with some of the commentary ongoing at the moment about unsustainable expansion. Over the last year every farming sector has endured pain due to the weather, irrespective of wet or dry farms, east or west of the country.

Most of these commentators are very good at telling people what they cannot do but rarely bring solution-based thinking to the discussion.

There is a move towards dairying based on solid reasoning. Much of this is not true expansion but a move from a different enterprise.

None of us can fully predict the future but over the last 20 years committed farmers looking to create a solid family income and rural employment for themselves and their families have recognised the ability of dairying to deliver.

Risk analysis must be part of every farmers approach. What is the correct stocking rate for my farm over a five-year period. How much grass can my farm grow, have I a winter feed reserve. Is my farm enterprise viable and has it a future.

We are in exceptionally challenging times and the way through it is by having a thorough knowledge of our business obtained through measurement and analysis.

We must be proactive in putting a plan in place not just for the next weather event but for the next 10 years.

To this end I will be attending what looks to be a very good four-day Dairy Business brush-up course facilitated by Lynaire Ryan, supported by household Irish researchers and consultants.

This course commences in October at different venues throughout the country with the support of Macra Skillnet.

More information from macra.ie/skillnet

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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