Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Expansion tops agenda as huge crowds descend on Moorepark

Farmers hit huge Teagasc site to hear the latest research on dairy production

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Record crowds flocked to Teagasc's research headquarters at Moorepark, Fermoy, Co Cork last week. Good conditions brought an estimated 8,000 farmers to the 50ac site to hear the latest research findings on dairy production and prospects for the future.

The underlying theme of the day was about preparing farmers to deal best with the predicted expansion set to take place after quotas go in 2015.

"This is the most significant thing happening in the sector for the foreseeable future," said Teagasc's head of dairy research, Padraig French.

"The global demand is growing by 10m tonnes a year, so the 2m tonnes that Ireland hopes to increase production by over the next eight years is not going to cause a problem.

"But the only reason that you should expand is if it leaves you more profitable and gives you a better lifestyle," cautioned Mr French.


"If you think that you can make a high cost system more viable by increasing production to dilute your overhead costs, the chances are that you are going to go broke."

Ireland is a competitive dairy producer at the moment, but that could change very quickly, according to Mr French.

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"New Zealand and the west coast of the US are our main competition in terms of the product mix that we specialise in and if we don't keep innovating and adopting new technology, we'll fall behind very quickly," he said.

The Teagasc man also emphasised the importance of good planning and financial management by farmers considering expansion.

"Going forward without a cashflow plan is like driving off into the night with the headlights off," he told farmers attending the event.

Dairy specialist Brendan Horan said that expansion also needed to be enjoyable, environmentally friendly and create opportunities for farmers.

"In 1980 the national average wage was €4,000. In 2010 it was €40,000," Mr Horan said.


"You as farmers need to be aiming to get at least the same since you are putting in bigger hours every week and are taking on a bigger financial risk than the average employee," he told listening farmers.

Mr Horan outlined how the average farmer needed to be milking 125 cows to return this level of profit, but that the most profitable farmers were able to clear €40,000 on just 55 cows.

"Every farmer looking to expand needs to ask themselves key questions," he said. "How much grass can their farm grow?

"How much off-farm feed is available?

"Have you enough reserves? This will determine what your stocking rate should be.

"Then you need to focus on a mean calving date of February 15-25.

"The national average is closer to March 10.

"This is not because farmers start calving their cows too late, but because the calving is spread out over too long a period," said Mr Horan.

He said that Teagasc research farms were now routinely getting 90pc of their herds to calve within 42 days, compared to the national average of 55pc during the same six-week period.

He also outlined how Moorepark is now growing 16t/ha of grass drymatter (DM) but that this will increase to 20t/ha over the next five years. Ongoing research from the centre indicates that grass and milk production is optimised when cows are grazing down covers of 1,300-1,400kg/ha DM to 3.5cm in the spring and 4cm during the summer and autumn.


Researchers showed farmers that well-run grazing systems could 'comfortably' keep cows with just 500kg of concentrate supplements every year. This, in turn, would allow stocking rates of up to three cows per hectare, milk solid output of 450kg/ha, 100-150 cows per labour unit and a profit of €750/cow.

Grass expert Michael O'Donovan outlined to farmers how swards with just 10pc perennial ryegrasses produced 4t/ha less of drymatter than swards with 100pc perennial ryegrasses.

"This is a huge, invisible loss on farms, because grasses other than perennial ryegrasses don't utilise fertiliser as efficiently, don't produce as much forage, and produce it over a shorter time frame.

"This adds up to a loss of €300/ha," he said.

Irish Independent