Still possible to have splendour in the grass...

Joe Kelleher

Joe Kelleher

At the time of my last column four weeks ago, it looked like we had turned the corner and the end of the drought was in sight. But the reality is that for half the country, we are still a bit away from leaving drought conditions behind us.

Over the past month, there has been a huge surge in planting of alternative crops - to such an extent that seed supplies for these crops have been almost totally exhausted.

Thanks to the co-operation of tillage farmers throughout the country, these crops will go some way towards alleviating the fodder deficit but it won't close the gap fully.

The other options available to farmers to address the fodder shortage this winter are: reduce stock numbers or buy in more feed.

Buying in feed will get those who are up to 30pc short of fodder out of trouble, but for those that are more than 30pc short, we need to look at some level of de-stocking.

Teagasc specialist Joe Patton recently demonstrated the difference early culling can have on your forage budget.

If a farmer with 80 cows culls eight cows (10pc) in August, this will provide an extra month's fodder for the remaining 72 cows.

This impact is halved if culling is deferred until December. So the key message is that culling needs to be carried out early to have an impact on fodder.

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Millers are under enormous pressure to keep bins full with ingredients due to the unprecedented demand throughout July and August.

This demand now looks likely to continue in many areas until next spring.

Most merchants are offering basic stretcher rations designed to stretch both grass and fodder this autumn. Where both grass and fodder are in short supply, these stretcher rations should be used at high supplementation rates to maximise the fodder we have available.

At €210-230 these rations are the equivalent of paying €35 -40 for an average quality bale of silage. That is assuming you can find someone willing to sell you such a bale.

However, with the ration the availability is more certain, as is the quality.

The window for planting alternative forage crops has passed and now we need to focus our attention on growing as much grass as we possibly can for the remainder of the grass season.

Table 2, shows the response to autumn nitrogen. While the rules have been changed to extend the fertiliser spreading season to the end of September, it is clear that the earlier the fertiliser is spread, the better the response.

A bag of CAN spread on September 1 will grow double that of a bag spread on September 30.

This is not to say we don't spread fertiliser at the end of September, but that we should be getting the fertiliser out as early as possible.

For example, 24 units of Nitrogen spread on September 30 has the potential to grow 300kgs of dry matter per hectare which works out at approximately 10c/kg of dry matter (€100/tonne). This is still by far the cheapest feed available at present.

The last significant drought we had in this country was in 2006 when, once the rain arrived, we had a spike in grass growth where nitrogen was spread.

The message for the next month is simple: There is still time to grow a significant amount of grass this autumn but the earlier we act, the more we will grow.

Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc consultant based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick

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