Farmers will keep a close eye on progress with the Derrypatrick Herd
I went to the Teagasc Grange open day with one question: how do you make money from beef farming? While I may not have come home with a proven blueprint, Teagasc's new Derrypatrick Herd project is a move in the right direction.
This project has targeted a gross margin of more than €1,000/ha from an enclosed beef unit carrying 120 suckler cows, plus replacements on 55.65 adjusted hectares.
Still not a fortune compared to Ivor Callely's expenses, but this gross margin is more than double the returns measured on the top one-third of beef farms in the National Farm Survey.
Placing this ambitious target up front is a win-win approach for Teagasc and farmers. For the researchers and advisers, it focuses them on the matters that influence margins and profit. Farmers will more readily identify with a unit that is run as a single farm under similar feed and animal health pressures as themselves.
The plan is to farm to the best technical efficiency but to report results, warts and all. The big farmer-turnout at last week's open day is a sign of the interest in the project.
In order to make a stab at the €1,000/ha, the Grange team has had to up the stocking rate to 2.9LU/ha. This is high.
It goes back to pre-REPS times, and at 225kg of organic nitrogen per hectare, the test farm is in Nitrates Directive derogation territory. Bag nitrogen use is targeted at 200kg/ha.
The reality is that if you want high margin, you need output. To get output, you need efficiency and tight stocking density.