Scope for co-operation on land rentals
The wise man learns from the mistakes of others; some learn from their own mistakes and others keep on making mistakes until the money is all gone.
This year in one small parish I saw a tillage farmer struggle to grow spring barley on a rented wet farm. Down the road a dairy farmer rented good land - in need of reseeding - for €240/ac for one cut of silage.
After paying for the land the dairy farmer spent €84/ac for fertiliser and paid a further €125/ac to a contractor to save the silage. His total cost was €449/ac for a 10-11t crop.
The tillage farmer had paid €220/ac for the land; a further €230/ac for seed, fertiliser and sprays. Had someone else asked him to do the work on hire he would have charged €160/ac. The crop yielded 2.3t/ac for which he struggled to get €135/t or €310/ac. The straw is sitting in a shed waiting for a buyer.
The tillage farmer obviously lost money. For the dairy farmer it was an expensive exercise, but judging by Mike Brady's article in last week's edition he probably still made money.
In 2009, supposedly a disaster year for dairy farmers, the net profit was €216/ac and the average profit over the period was €508/ac. Tillage farmers would be happy to take the €216/ac every year so there is plenty of scope for co-operation.
The logical approach for next year is for the tillage farmer to rent the grassland and grow a cereal crop on it for at least two to three years after which it might be reseeded. Tillage on the land would enable good grass weed control before reseeding and also allow incorporation of P and K into the seedbed. The dairy farmer should then rent the wet farm and reseed it.
In practice that will not happen because both farmers want to hold as much land as possible for future years and neither of them want to break their relationship with the landowner. The alternative is for the tillage farmer to reseed the wet farm with grass and do a forward contract with the dairy farmer for silage from it.
That would leave the grass farm back onto the open market.
Reseeding of worn tillage ground is not without its difficulties and it can take several years to get it into top production. This might be partly attributed to low soil organic matter so a source of cattle or pig slurry, poultry manure or mushroom compost is very valuable.
Apply the manure early in spring, plough it down, and perhaps give another light application of slurry before sowing. As always soil sampling and analysis is important before reseeding so as to ensure the optimum fertiliser programme. P and K levels are still dropping on many farms and increased rainfall intensity is reducing soil pH.
Obviously there are opportunities for all tillage and dairy farmers to do similar transactions. It should be particularity attractive for tillage farmers who also operate as silage contractors as not alone can they sell the grass but also get paid for harvesting.
Grass might well become the alternative crop on many tillage farms and become the solution to the requirement for three crops on all farms over 74ac.
Despite all the good weather up to late October, I already have four farmers who failed to get their planned second crop sown this autumn and are now faced with sowing two crops this spring.
Spring barley will be one crop but the second crop will be more difficult. Peas and beans must be sown early, rotation must be right for spring wheat and there is a danger of spring oats, perhaps the easy option, being over-sown and the price collapsing as a result.
Both fodder beet and maize provide excellent feed but should not be sown unless you have a demand and preferably a contract.
This year both maize and beet have yielded exceptionally well. Maize dry matter is close to and over 30pc.
It is likely that demand for maize from dairy farmers will increase into the future.
If the concept of growing grass, maize or fodder beet for sale or indeed forward buying appeals to you now is the time to start moving. Make direct contact with neighbouring farmers or contact your auctioneer, advisor or consultant and put contracts or agreements in place.
PJ Phelan is an agricultural consultant and a member of ACA and ITCA. He is based in Tipperary.
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