Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Grass crisis will bite for while longer

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Grass supply on farms has reached a critical stage, with livestock farmers already counting the cost of supplementary feed and longer housing of stock.

Dairy farmers will feel the pinch even more when the March milk cheques reveal the cost of lower milk protein levels. Protein levels are down at 3.00pc for many farmers, a level that equates to a milk price cut of several cents per litre at a time when every cent counts.

Grass growth levels have been only a fraction of what would be expected for this time of year. Until last week, grass growth was in the single digits, when it should be close to 30kg DM/ha.

Thankfully, soil temperatures rose by five degrees in as many days last week, from 3C to 8C by Friday. The impact was immediately noticeable, with green shoots emerging over the weekend.

However, the long and cold spring will continue to impact on farms for several months to come.

Farm covers are down by 40-50pc on normal levels and farmers will be forced to continue with meal and silage feeding for some weeks yet.

Where the silage ground has been grazed, poor growth rates mean a later silage harvest and a possible lower yield.

Given the harsh experience that was winter 2009/10, many farmers had planned to cut extra silage this summer to replace depleted stocks.

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In addition, wild fluctuations in fodder prices -- silage bales are now being quoted at anything from €25 to €35/bale ex-yard -- will certainly encourage farmers to be self-sufficient in fodder if at all possible.

However, 2010 is not the first extremely late spring. In both 1996 and 1986, grass growth was dismal until April, when it took off in spectacular fashion.

If the weekend's higher temperatures are sustained in the coming weeks, we can expect similar compensatory growth in April.

'Magic Day', when farm grass supply exceeds demand, will be heartily welcomed when it dawns.

Declan O'Brien is on annual leave

Irish Independent

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