Fodder census aims to prevent repeat of winter crisis
A national fodder census will be completed this summer to establish winter feed levels on the country's farms.
This was one of the key decisions from a new stakeholder group tasked with preventing a recurrence of last winter's fodder crisis - the second in five years.
The inter-agency group, which met for the first time in Tullamore last Friday, is led by Teagasc and includes the Department of Agriculture, dairy and meat processors, the banks, Veterinary Ireland and the farm organisations.
Replenishing exhausted fodder stocks and building a two-month buffer of feed on livestock farms is a key goal of the initiative.
However, the consensus from the meeting was that this would not be achieved this summer and could take a further year.
Teagasc staff told the meeting that farmers should aim to maximise returns from first-cut silage, and harvest the crop as close as possible to the target cutting date.
While the wet and cold weather between August and April was the primary cause of the recent fodder crisis, the failure to harvest second-cut silage on many drystock farms in the northern half of the country, and overstocking on intensive dairy units in the south, were identified as major contributory factors.
The meeting was told that stocking levels on grass-based dairy farms should be limited to 4.0-4.5 cows per hectare.
Drystock farmers with low stocking densities were advised to close 50-60pc of their holdings for first-cut silage, while more intensive operators should close between 40pc and 50pc.
The meeting was told that all farmers should be encouraged to draw up a winter fodder budget, to establish the feed requirements for their holding.
This winter's crisis resulted in thousands of tonnes of fodder being imported to feed dairy and drystock herds through the late spring.