‘We could be at it until October’ - This year’s silage season could extend into late autumn
Second-cut silage is few and far between after the drought. In a normal year, contractors would be up and at it once again at this stage of the summer as second cut thickens up, but at the moment only a handful of farmers around the country are ready for round two.
The few showers we have had will help, but much more rain is needed. It all means we are likely to see some of the latest silage harvesting on record this back end. Indeed, some contractors are predicting balers and silage harvesters will still be in action in some places come October.
I met up with one contractor in the south east on his first outing of second-cut silage last week. Tom Kirwan runs a self-propelled harvesting and baled silage contracting outfit from his base in Carrigeen, Kill, Co Waterford, and serves farmer customers in the surrounding areas.
It is a family-run business and at the peak of the season, the Kirwan outfit employs between seven and eight staff.
“We try to hire staff who come from a farming background because they tend to know a bit more about looking after machinery,” revealed Tom. “We have a few farmers’ sons driving for us who tend to come back for work each
season. By way of example, our man on the harvester, Kieran Dunphy, is a dairy farmer. Finding reliable drivers isn’t easy these days, so I try to look after the lads in terms of proper wages and decent conditions.”
A farmer himself, Tom is acutely aware of the issues his customers are facing in terms of poor grass growth and the slow start to second-cut silage. As we approach the end of July, he has only a handful of farmers who are ready for second-cut silage.
“Normally at this time of year the phone would be ringing off the hook. Fellas would be looking for you yesterday. It makes for more of a stop start season and I could see us being at silage well into the autumn. Most crops look very light.
"The farm we are working in today is unusual in being ready so soon; we took first-cut silage from this farm in late May so it has done very well to be ready for second cut given the heat we’ve had.
But this is the exception rather than the norm — I expect to be quiet again for a couple of weeks after this job.”
Most of the mowing is done with a 10-year-old Krone Big M self-propelled mower. The Kirwans also have mounted Krone mowers for periods of the season when demand for mowing is intense.
The tractor fleet consists of mostly Case IH models bought from local dealer Patrick Fitzgerald of Kill Agri, who Tom credits with always being available on the phone if needed.
The remainder of the tractor fleet comprises of a couple of New Holland and John Deere models. Tom says there was a time when the tractor line-up was nearly all John Deere, but that has gradually changed over the years.
Claas has been the brand of choice when it comes to the harvester for some time now, and the current 151-plated Jaguar has been performing well. Tom bought it from local dealer McCarthys of Cork. He has no plans to change it for a while yet.
He has looked at alternative brands, but given the reliability the Jaguar model has provided him with over the years, he thinks he would be slow to change.
“We are always open to new machines coming into the fleet or getting demo models out for a trial. There is talk of getting a demo of a Krone Big X, so if that happens it will be interesting to see what she is capable of.”
The Kirwans also offer a baled silage service to customers, with two McHale Fusion balers charged with running that side of the operation. As is the case for pit silage, Tom is seeing a broken season for bales, but he predicts that it could be busy into the autumn.
“It was flat out for first cut, but then everything ground to a halt. It’s only in the last week or two I’ve had some customers ready again, but nothing like what you would normally expect. Most of my farmer customers have only around 50pc-60pc of their winter fodder made so far and here we are nearly heading into August. There is an awful lot of silage to be made this year yet if farmers are to avoid another fodder crisis.”
It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. One big positive from the dry weather, according to Tom, has been much improved ground conditions for machinery compared to last year.
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