Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Phosphate deficiency blamed for dairy herd problems

Fertiliser restriction to 'send costs rocketing'

Martin Ryan

RESTRICTIONS on fertiliser use under the Nitrates Directive are causing a serious mineral deficiency problem in the dairy herd, an animal nutrition expert has warned.

Animal nutritionist David Thompson claims the reduction in the application of phosphate (P) is set to "send costs rocketing" on thousands of dairy farms.

In a detailed submission to Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith, Mr Thompson claims a dramatic increase in Aphosphorous in dairy cows is leading to cow deaths on some farms.

He has called on the minister to reverse the restriction on P use, which he claims is the cause of the serious depletion of phosphate in the main source of animal feed, grass.

Mr Thompson's claims have been backed up by Cork-based consultant nutritionist Pat Byrne.

Mr Byrne said: "In my work as an agricultural consultant I have watched the phosphorus levels in grass silages drop in 2009 to an average of 0.25pc and the grazing swards in 2010 to 0.27pc."

He warns that the average requirements for the lactating cow during the first three months of production is 0.4pc -- 50pc above the levels which have been recorded in the silage and grass being fed to cows this year.

There have been numerous reports from around the country of phosphate deficiency becoming a major problem this year, leading to lower milk yield, infertility and lameness.

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Blood phosphorous level tests carried out at the veterinary laboratory in Cork in 2008 showed a substantial drop from the previous two years.

In his submission, Mr Thompson outlined that because of the EU Nitrates Directive, phosphate deficiency had become rampant again with a drop of 40pc in applications since 2000.

He warns that some farmers are being forced to supplement water supplies, increasing production costs on farms.

Meanwhile, IFA president John Bryan has called on the Government to accept Teagasc proposals to improve implementation of the nitrates regulations in the current review and make them more workable for farmers.

ICMSA president Jackie Cahill said the three main issues were the ending of the farming by calendar provision, an increase in the use of phosphorous and a role over of the transitional arrangements regarding the application of pig and poultry manure.

An expert group drawn from the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Environment, the EPA and Teagasc has until the end of this month to review 44 submissions.

After this deadline Ireland's derogation will not be renewed unless a new action programme is put in place.

Irish Independent