Farming

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Surge in area of forage crops as farmers look to next winter

A huge lift in the sowing of forage crops is being reported as farmers seek to pre-empt another fodder crisis next winter.

As millions of euro come on stream to aid farmers through the current fodder crisis, the focus is now turning to ensuring adequate feed supplies for the coming winter.

Seed companies reported massive increases in demand, with planting of maize, fodder beet, kale and Italian ryegrass crops all up.

Maize acreage is expected to be up 20pc this year, while sales of beet, arable silage and high-yielding hybrid grasses are also up by a similar amount.

Extra seed has been arriving from Britain, France and Germany on a daily basis, according to Maizetec's John Foley.

"We're just about keeping up with demand, but there have been a lot of last minute decisions over the last week," said Mr Foley.

He said that the biggest increase was happening in traditional winter wheat growing areas where conditions did not allow winter cereal crops to be sown.

There has also been a big jump in the proportion of maize being sown under plastic as farmers strive to insulate themselves from any risk of crop failure in 2013, according to seed merchants.

However, additional land for fodder is coming on stream as more winter-sown oilseed rape is ploughed in.

"Forty per cent of the crop in Britain has been ploughed in and I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing has happened here," said Louth-based nutritionist, Gerry Giggins.

Many tillage farmers were being offered €60/t for maize delivered next autumn, but the use of long lasting herbicides such as Kerb on oilseed rape had rendered a lot of land unsuitable for maize sowing.

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Jim Gibbons, of Germinal seeds, said that maize alternatives such as Italian and hybrid ryegrasses were up by 20pc.

"Farmers are basically asking us for whatever can fill the pit for them this year," said Mr Gibbons.

"For this reason Westerwold grass, which can give up to 30 per cent more yield than a good ryegrass pasture in the first year, is very popular.

"Other lower yielding, but longer lasting, alternatives such as Italian and hybrid ryegrasses are also proving popular," he added.

Fodder beet, kale and arable silage mixes are also on the up, according to Goldcrop's Dave Barry.

"Beet is popular because it's still the highest yielding crop on an energy per acre basis, but most of it has been sown by now," said Mr Barry.

He said he expected sales of kale and brassicas to start picking up too.

Millions of euro has been donated to various initiatives to source additional fodder for farmers.

SuperValu, Kepak and Oliver Carty the latest contributors, with a €250,000 donation.

Free helplines being operated by both the Department of Agriculture and Keenans have been receiving more than 100 calls on a daily basis, with Teagasc also agreeing to provide free advice to all non-clients affected by the fodder shortage.

Irish Independent