Farm Ireland

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Tillage farmers urged to grow fodder crops, amid concerns around early silage crops yields and quality

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The 2017/18 cropping season is being severely impacted by the current bad spell of weather and crop options have narrowed considerably but the possibility to grow fodder for livestock farmers should be strongly considered, according to Teagasc.

It says that given that stocks of fodder carried over to next autumn are likely to be very low and farmers should look at growing fodder especially as early indications around silage quality and yields are not positive.

The total area of tillage planted each year is a mixture of winter and spring plantings and generally where bad weather disrupts autumn plantings the land not sown in the autumn, is planted in the spring, it says.

However, to date, weather has disrupted both autumn (2017) and spring (2018) planting, as well as spring management of autumn sown crops. 

Autumn plantings are estimated to be down by 10.2pc (Table 1), while little progress has been made with spring planting with many spring crop options now past their optimum (and in many cases profitable) planting dates.

Almost all spring crops will be planted later than normal this year resulting in a lower yield potential in these crops. Yields of winter crops may be reduced due to the wet soils and delayed applications of inputs at the correct timings. On average, winter crops are 10-14 days behind normal growth stages.

Ciaran Collins, Teagasc Tillage Specialist said: “The wet autumn and spring means that very few crops are up to date with weed control, fertiliser and fungicide. A small proportion has received nothing to date. Winter barley, which has not received the first split of nitrogen, or had weeds controlled, will more than likely suffer a yield reduction.

“Little or no spring planting has been done to date. Spring wheat, spring oats and beans are past their optimum planting date. Crops planted from now on will be lower yielding and will result in a late harvest,” according to Shay Phelan, Teagasc Tillage Specialist.

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This leaves a very narrow choice of crops. However farmers have to be mindful of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) regulations regards the 2 and 3 crop rule. 

“The Department is in talks with the European Commission to get some relief for farmers on the 3 crop rule. Watch this space carefully in the coming days,” added Shay.

Growing premium crops such as malting barley will be more difficult to achieve this year due to the late planting and growers need to carefully assess the level of nitrogen applied. 

“Growers should err on the lower side of nitrogen applications to ensure specifications are achieved,” reported Michael Hennessy, Head of Crops Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc.  

There are opportunities for both tillage farmers and livestock farmers to co-operate successfully this year. Livestock farmers are conscious that forage feed stocks need to be replenished above previous levels.


The expectations are that first cut silage will be of lower yield and potentially lower quality this year, according to Teagasc and there are other forages which can be grown by tillage farmers and delivered to livestock farmers, but both parties need to plan these requirements now.

“Tillage farmers are looking for rotational opportunities and there is still time to plant maize and beet for sale locally. However tillage farmers need to be confident a suitable arrangement is in place so that the fodder can be delivered and payment received. 

"These crops will also help to spread the workload which is mounting on tillage farms at present,” said Michael Hennessy. Putting in a payment plan for the costs of growing the forage, with stage payments through the summer and a final settlement when the forage is delivered, is an ideal way for farmers to work together, he said.

Farmers have been successfully using the inter-farm trading templates such as the one in the Teagasc Maize Guide, according to Tom O’Dwyer, Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc.  

Tom O Dwyer added: “Forages from tillage farms are an extremely useful solution on many farms, but in order to have a medium term sustainable solution inter-farm trading needs to be of benefit to both parties and integrated solutions such as the use of slurries to produce forages on these farms should be considered.”

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