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Wednesday 14 November 2018

Helen Harris: Poor take-up on fodder scheme is baffling - and ominous

Photo Brian Farrell
Photo Brian Farrell
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

We eventually completed our main harvest but instead of improving, the results just went from bad to worse as the harvest went on.

The winter crops were only average, but the spring crops were verging from bad to disastrous.

One spring barley field Mickle did 2.5 mt per acre and others returned 1.6 mt per acre.

Both had very short straw crops and when they were baled, one only did two round bales to the acre and even less on the other fields.

It is really disheartening to work all year and try and do everything as best you can, and then have results like that. We still have the beans to cut but again I don't think the yield is going to be too hectic.

Most farmers that are buying straw this year think it's very dear. For us, if we have less than half the straw we would normally have off some fields, we would need the price to be double that of last year to make the same money. This is the first year in my memory that all farming sectors are being hit hard at the same time.

Normally when tillage is happy, then dairy and dry stock are not and vice versa. This year is going to be a tough financial one on everyone. It's a very stressful time.

After clearing the fields, we spread chicken litter and disked it in. We then sowed our oil seed rape.

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We decided to go with the same one we grew last year - Pioneer PT 256. Considering the year we had, it did well, at two tonne to the acre.

We also sowed some cover crops in the fields that will be for spring barley.

We were struggling to pick a mix that wouldn't effect our crops in rotation and was not too expensive. We ended up with a mustard/phacelia mix.

Fodder Scheme

I really thought that when the government came up with a scheme to incentivise tillage farmers to grow extra fodder in the shape of short rotation grass and catch crops, that we would get a lot of calls from farmers that were short of fodder, asking us to grow it.

We didn't receive one call. I asked some other tillage farmers if they had they been approached and very few had.

Some that were already working with dairy farmers, had been asked, but in general there has been little take-up.

I can't for the life of me understand why farmers that are short of fodder aren't taking up the offer. Is there lots of grass out there? Has this autumn made up for all the silage that wasn't made earlier in the year?

For tillage farmers, there seems to be too much risk involved without someone to agree to buy it at the other end.

According to Teagasc it will cost between €500 and €700 per hectare to grow it. The government are giving a grant of between €100 and €150 per hectare to growers.

There is too big a gap between the amount it costs to grow and the payment, so tillage farmers are just not going to bother, unless there is farmer willing to buy it.

On the other side, are farmers taking a chance, that they will have enough fodder to last the whole winter?

What happens if we get a winter like last year and when we get to spring and all the fodder is gone?

There are many different calculators to work out how much fodder you need, but the weather forecast is the unpredictable part.

If we end up with a fodder crisis next spring, I will be asking the question: did farmers do enough to make sure they had adequate supplies of fodder and did the government do enough to help?

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer

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