Fodder deficit narrows but dairy farmers advised to cull 'stragglers'
The fodder deficit has narrowed from 28pc nationally in July to 11pc in September, according to the latest figures from the Teagasc Fodder survey.
Siobhan Kavanagh, Teagasc regional manager, told delegates at the Interagency Fodder meeting on Thursday that the fodder deficit has decreased from 8m tonnes two months ago to 2-3m tonnes now, and that huge progress has been made on increasing grass growth and silage and feed reserves.
Despite this progress the survey revealed there are still significant fodder shortages in the south and south-east: 58pc of farmers in the south reported being short in fodder supplies, by an average of 24pc, compared to 35pc of farmers in the north-east estimating to have a fodder shortage of 13pc.
Ms Kavanagh said that only 25pc of farmers surveyed said they would sell surplus fodder, which means that there will probably be decreased mobilisation of fodder during the year.
"Seventy-five per cent said they wouldn't sell if they had a surplus and I think the 25pc who have surplus fodder would be very slow to sell… maybe if they have large surpluses but they probably wouldn't sell it until April… nobody is going to sell too early, so they will be relying on the mobilisation of feed," said Ms Kavanagh.
Over 30pc of farmers said they will use a combination of straits and meal to make up any fodder shortfall, while 80pc said they wouldn't change their stocking rate in 2019.
Teagasc dairy specialist Joe Patton pointed out that while the situation has improved since the summer, farmers should still consider "culling stragglers" to alleviate pressure.
"During the summer we thought we would have to cull almost half the herd because of the situation we were in but things have improved - but I still thing the culling question shouldn't come off the table for the farms that are under the most pressure," he said.
"The stress people can put themselves under to hang on to a few extra cattle is amazing, it puts the whole system under pressure - for what at the end of the day?"
Mr Patton pointed out that the earlier culling of late-calving cows could save the average 80-cow dairy herd up to three weeks feeding.
"So those few stragglers that you don't like… if there was ever a year to move them, this is the year to do it," he said.
Mr Patton also recommended that farmers make a feed plan now instead of after Christmas when they will have to focus on calving.
Teagasc will be hosting a Fodder and Finance Week from October 8 which will involve mart visits and information sessions on how best to manage fodder and cashflow.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about the potential quality of concentrate feed being supplied to farms.
Munster IFA chairman John Coughlan has warned that concentrate mixes are likely to have more variation than usual because of the difficulties being experienced by compounders in sourcing the usual ingredients.
"There are going to be different ingredients included in the rations this year and farmers will need to be very much aware of that and sure of the value of what they are being supplied" he said.
"There is going to be competition on price between suppliers, and prices are going to increase, but you have to know what you are getting in the ration because the cheapest ration could be the poorest value for money."