Livestock farmers must make most of their best asset -- grass
Being of a mean disposition, I welcome this mild January weather. It allows me to switch off the central heating. The kind weather also brings an early stirring of the Irish livestock farmers' best asset -- grass.
Now some may find grass a tedious or non-issue, but Limerick farmer John MacNamara offered a different perspective at last week's Irish Grassland Association (IGA) dairy conference.
"How I grow and use grass will determine mine and my family's standard of living," Mr MacNamara said.
Put simply, grazed grass offers a cheap and widely available source of feed. If you can find a consistent alternative, such as a feed by-product, then good for you. But for the vast majority, grass, with all its complexity, is the only show in town.
At the same conference (replicated in Athlone and Cork on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week to give national accessibility), Teagasc Moorepark's Michael O'Donovan outlined the latest in fine tuning to really have your grassland humming.
The table (right) outlines current reality and future targets based on measurements achieved on the best paddocks of top farms. That's a target output of more than 1,500kg of milk solids per hectare. Even at a modest milk price, this approaches €6,000.
Ironically, in the midst of the best practices of rotations, grass measurement, grass budgeting, reseeding etc, farmers are drifting away from what Mr O'Donovan calls the "foundation" for grass growing -- soil fertility.
"Reseeding is pointless unless fertility and pH problems are addressed, yet less than 50pc of dairy farmers are soil testing," Mr O'Donovan said. In practice, the Teagasc man claimed soil fertility levels are slipping.