Farm Ireland

Monday 17 December 2018

Opinion: Our milk glass was half-full last year, now it's half-empty


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.
There has been an increased workload on every farm
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

How quickly the pendulum has swung on milk price. This time last year we were seeing consistent increases and the hope was to repair the current accounts damaged by the low milk prices in 2015/2016. We were even hopeful of building the rainy day fund for future downturns.

For anyone lucky enough to create one it did not take long for the tide to turn due to the wet autumn and now an incredibly difficult spring. The efforts to care for the animals and ensure they were properly fed has led to an increased workload on every farm along with the added financial pressure associated with purchasing extra feed or supplement.

The effects have been very severe on farmers in almost every county and no doubt are leading to physical exhaustion and increased stress levels. The financial impact has yet to be seen fully because massive amounts of feed have been purchased in recent weeks and while merchants are good enough to allow their customers put it on credit so that the animals are cared for, ultimately the bills will come and with them the harsh reality of payment.

With regard to milk price there is no doubt the higher prices obtained in 2017 combined with lower grain prices led to increased output internationally. This, along with the construction of factory-sized dairy units in some countries, is increasing global production.

I found a statement from our EU Agricultural Commissioner a bit frustrating when he told us to curb our expansion plans, while the rest of the world expands at will, and also considering the big Russian market remains closed to dairy exports due to sanctions imposed by the European Union.

I also feel our Minister for Agriculture could have stepped up and acknowledged the extent of the fodder shortages far earlier, as floods washed across the north-west and Donegal from last autumn.

The really sad part of this ongoing feed crisis is that for many farmers who are now short of feed across the south and east it's because they supported the campaigns highlighted and coordinated by the IFA and supported by Teagasc to match counties and move feed to the farmers most in need earlier in the winter.

Their campaigns highlighted the shortfall very early in the winter resulting in most farmers feeding more imported grain at enormous cost all through the winter to stretch existing silage supplies thereby disguising the shortage of home-grown winter forage.

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On the home front, milking performance is well behind normal for this time of year. The cows are yielding just over 22 litres at 4.5pc fat but protein at 3.35pc is below normal. Farm cover has increased to 435 but while growth of 35 kg is increasing by the day we are still not going into covers of 1,000 yet.

The big challenge all spring has been ground conditions which remain very tender and the fact that grass growth has been less than half for a normal year.

Based on my experience we can expect a huge burst of growth any day now which will bring its own challenges. All the usual dates for this time of year such as closing for silage and starting breeding must be observed. We have delayed closing for first cut till April 20, but I am not concerned as one good day's growth in June will probably equal a week in April. This year, weather permitting, I will cut the crop a few days sooner anyhow to improve silage quality.

The planning for our parlour and cubicle shed has come through so we intend to start work on the parlour immediately.

This is a huge project by our standards so hopefully we can keep all aspects of the business moving this summer.

We are currently milking 20 lines of cows so the parlour is no longer fit for purpose.

We have increased cow numbers by 100 since the last year of quotas so the housing deficit was a few years in the making.

Also stocking rate on the MP is now 3.8 cows/ha so we need to implement more on/off grazing to protect the land and increase grass growth and utilisation.

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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