Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Roller-coaster grass growth impacting on farm finances

John Heney

The roller-coaster nature of grass growth in 2012 is proving to be quite challenging. The difficulties and uncertainty which this growth pattern is causing on farms highlights the importance of good grass management, particularly with the recent escalation of farm input costs.

It is easy to forget that it's barely one generation since the traditional skills of good crop and grass management were swept aside by a new breed of young farmers equipped with fertiliser spreaders and tractors.

Now it seems that things are changing again.

Gone is the cheap supply of fertiliser and diesel which drove the Irish version of the 'Green Revolution'. Now it's all about utilising our natural ability to grow great grass in the most cost-effective manner possible. Luckily, this has coincided with a growing consumer demand for naturally-produced food.

On the subject of grass, last week I had a very interesting visit from north Minnesota beef farmer Rick Olson and his daughter Carrie, who were holidaying in Ireland.

Rick produces grass-fed beef sourced from local dairy herds and wanted to visit grass-fed beef farms in Ireland.

It was great to compare systems here and in Minnesota, and also hear how the benefits of grass-fed beef are highly regarded in the United States, so much so that it now commands a premium price.

Recently, I also had the opportunity to attend an agri-food conference in Dublin.

Also Read

It was heartening to hear a top Teagasc adviser reaffirm that the bottom line for farmers should be profit.

Earlier, I was disappointed to hear an agri-business spokesperson place the main focus of his presentation on how high inputs will always result in high output.


He chose to carefully ignore the effect this would have on profits.

What I found really disturbing was his suggestion that intensively-produced food could be conveniently marketed using Ireland's well established green-image as a smokescreen.

One of the main messages I took away from the conference was that when farming is doing better, there are a lot of people who would like to take the few extra bob we make away from us, irrespective of the consequences for our industry.

Meanwhile, I was lucky enough to get a couple of fine days in early June to get my silage wilted and into the pit.

The speed with which grass can now be collected really is amazing and is a huge help in improving silage quality.

I'd hate to think what the extra three or four wet days it would have taken 20 years ago would have done to the quality of my silage.

Taking a slightly later cut has also had the effect of producing a good yield.

Unfortunately, since I got my silage in, conditions appear to have got worse and deep tracking in silage fields has become a common sight.

The weather this month has really made me appreciate the difficulties previous generations of Irish farmers were faced with when saving hay.

The fact that they always managed to save enough winter fodder is testament to their skill and hard work.

While my cattle continue to do well, I am becoming concerned with the performance of a group of younger cattle. I have noticed some of them have a brownish tinge on their coats.

I got my vet to take some blood and dung samples and, hopefully, when the results of these samples come back, I should be in a better position to decide what to do.

While the wet weather makes for tricky ground conditions, I am very fortunate to have a dry farm.

So, in spite of the fact that most people I know say their cattle do much better in warm, dry weather, I find that my cattle do better in a fairly wet year. As the saying goes, 'It's an ill wind that blows no good'.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming