Teagasc concedes significant changes to advisory programme required in the wake fodder crisis
Greater emphasis will be put on winter-feed budgets after this year's shortages
Significant changes to its advisory programme will be required in the wake of this winter's feed shortages, the second major fodder crisis to hit the country in just six years, Teagasc has conceded.
However, industry stakeholders insisted this week that continued growth in the livestock sector was viable, despite the intense embarrassment that the recent difficulties have caused.
A Teagasc statement this week confirmed that its advisory programme will put a greater emphasis on getting farmers to complete a winter-feed budget each autumn so that winter feed requirements are better planned.
It has recommended to farmers to carry a reserve of one tonne of silage per livestock unit (fresh weight) on an annual basis to counteract years like 2012/2013 and 2018.
The state agency also suggested that its PastureBase Ireland facility - which monitors grass growth throughout the country - could be modified to assess feed reserves on grassland farms.
Both Teagasc and Department of Agriculture rejected suggestions that an over-emphasis on grass had somehow contributed to this winter's problems.
"In any crisis it's important that an industry learns lessons from it and avoids it happening again. Although the 2018 fodder crisis was caused by the exceptionally low grass growth rates (and above normal rainfall), it's important that strategies are put in place to prohibit it occurring again," Teagasc stated.
However, it does not require a rethink on a grass-based system being optimum for Irish ruminant systems of production, Teagasc maintained.
"It's long been established that Ireland's competitive advantage in both ruminant meat and milk production is based on high utilisation of grazed grass per hectare. This is based on the fact that grazed grass is the cheapest feed available and when properly managed, high animal performance is obtained," it stated.
"While accepting this, it is important that adequate quantities of conserved forage are available over the indoor period and, where required, a level of concentrate is supplement to achieve target animal performance," Teagasc added.
Continued growth also remains on the agenda for the country's dairy processors, although they were forced to import thousands of tonnes of fodder for dairy and beef herds over the last fortnight.
Asked by the Farming Independent if the recent feed crisis would impact dairy processors' growth plans, Lakeland Dairies said it would not.
"In 2012 they [Lakeland Dairies suppliers] said they would supply an extra 8pc milk year-on-year and they have done that. They now tell us they will supply an extra 4-5pc per year for the next four years and we trust that," the co-op stated.
Dairygold was equally confident of continued growth.
"Our member survey carried out in the summer of 2017 indicated that our member suppliers' ambition remains strong, with their collective intentions to grow both their herd size and milk supply," Dairygold said.
Meanwhile, Teagasc advisor, Pat Blackwell (Kilmallock) told farmers at a Limerick IFA county executive meeting that the late growth this spring will lead to a big reduction in the quantity of feed available for the coming winter on most farms.
"There is no fertiliser applied on most farms because the ground has been too saturated with water to travel, except they were to apply it with a bucket. Most farmers haven't even purchased fertiliser yet," he said.
"If this (2017-18 weather) is what we are facing for the future, we have to question the viability of farming in some regions of the country," Mr Blackwell said.
Amid concerns the weather events will become more frequent as a result of climate change, he pointed out it could spell the death knell for economic farming in some regions of the country.
Siobhan Kavanagh of Teagasc said improved grass growth this week will help to sort out fodder shortages in many parts of the country.
Soil temperatures are expected to reach 9°C or 10°C in many areas and grass growth rates of 40-45kgs/ha/day are forecast.
However, ground conditions in heavy soils remain poor, and Ms Kavanagh said farmers should continue to keep fodder in the feed mix where possible to allow paddocks time to build grass covers.
However, parts of the country were hit by extremely heavy rainfall over the weekend.
Donal Mullane, Teagasc regional manager in Tipperary, said the rain had further saturated heavy ground and will necessitate the housing of cattle for a further week in parts.
According to Met Éireann, some drier and warmer weather will develop from tomorrow on but this is expected to be shortlived with unsettled conditions forecasted for the weekend and early next week.
Rain is on the cards for the west tomorrow morning, with the rest of the country set to have a mainly dry and bright day with highs of 14°C to 17°C. Thursday is also expected to be mostly dry and bright with highs ranging from 14°C to 18°C. Friday will be cooler with showers in northern counties but many places will be dry and bright. Saturday will be largely dry, with sunny spells in the east and scattered showers in the west. Sunday and the week ahead are due to be unsettled.