Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Thousands flock to Teagasc open day to see Solohead's 'heavy soils' programme

Martin Ryan

Memories of a torrential 1947 were recalled as more than 2,000 farmers attended a recent Teagasc Open Day at Solohead Farm, Co Tipperary.

Hundreds arrived up to an hour before the official start, indicating their anxiety for solutions to the current waterlogged conditions being experienced on heavy ground.

Despite the downpours throughout the day, Teagasc's area manager, Donal Mullane, and Tipperary Co-op's general manager Ted O'Connor were kept busy taking farmers through the heavy soils programme being run by Teagasc, Tipperary, Kerry and Dairygold co-ops.

Soil analysis shows that 42pc of farms in Co Limerick are of the heavy soil type. Similar soils account for 37pc of farms in Clare and 26pc in Kerry. For this reason, there are seven commercial farms in counties, Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Clare and Tipperary, in addition to the research farm at Solohead, involved in the programme.

Dr Pat Dillon, head of the Teagasc Animal and Grassland programme said that wet soil conditions are the most important factor in the utilisation of grazed grass on Irish farms. "Almost half of the agricultural land in Ireland would benefit from reclamation and drainage," Mr Dillon said. "30pc of milk produced in Ireland originates from farms classified as having heavy soils, so managing heavy soils is particularly important for the growth of the dairy sector in Ireland."

There was particular interest in the drainage trials being carried out on the farm and the ongoing study of the economics of different systems.


John Donworth said that even with best management it has not been possible to maintain dairy yields in 2012. "The 10pc production decline normally expected for the month of July was experienced over a few days at the start of the month, despite concentrates being fed and a forecast that nationally production will be well below quota by the end of the month," he said.

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A trial on the suitability of lighter carcase-weight cows for heavier soils has been underway at the farm at Solohead for the past two years and is showing promising prospects, according to Teagasc researcher, Frank Buckley. "The smaller cow can reduce soil damage in very wet years and at similar feed input level, while simultaneously being stocked at slightly higher levels," he said.

Jersey-cross Holstein Friesian cows are being compared to Holstein Friesians at high and low stocking levels. Stocking levels of 2.4 cows/ha and 2.65 cows/ha are being compared, with each receiving 520kg concentrate.

At the lower stocking level fat and protein yield per cow was 482kg for the crossbred cows and 478kg for the Friesians. The ratio was similar at the higher stocking rates with Jersey crosses at 492kg and the Friesians yielding 488kg. Reproductive performance was significantly higher in the crossbred cows.

A three-way cross-breeding trial has been implemented on the farm for 2012 to compare the performance of Jersey, Norwegian Red and Holstein Friesian.

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