Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Welcome surge in grass growth

Catherine O'Leary, Intervet, address farmers at the Teagasc beef farm walk on Denis Large's farm, Urard, Urlingford, Co Tipperary
Catherine O'Leary, Intervet, address farmers at the Teagasc beef farm walk on Denis Large's farm, Urard, Urlingford, Co Tipperary

John Heney

Rain in Ireland generally gets a bad press as it is usually portrayed as something to avoid. As farmers, we are well aware that rain is a vital necessity for the growing of food.

It's amazing, however, how difficult it can be to explain this to some non-farming people, whose dream of a permanent Mediterranean climate here in Ireland has just been shattered by the recent torrential downpours.

As the moist and mild spell continues into another week, there appears to be a good possibility that the surge in growth will compensate for the poor grass performance earlier in the year.

At the moment I am in the process of stopping-off some ground for a second cut of silage to top-up my somewhat disappointing first cut. The use of after-grass to supplement my grass supply has also relieved a lot of my grazing problems. These infrequent droughts do, however, serve to put into focus the amazing competitive advantage we enjoy in Ireland in comparison to farmers in warmer, drier countries where droughts are a grim reality.

So how have these recent difficulties affected my cattle? I usually start selling around the end of July, but this year I'm not so sure. I've heard mixed reports of kill-out performance from people who have already sold cattle. Some appear to be quite pleased with their returns, while others feel their cattle could have perhaps done with another few weeks on grass.

There is one way to really find out, so yesterday I culled out a half-load of what seemed to be fairly OK Friesian bullocks, and they are booked in to the factory for next week.

As this will be my first time selling cattle under the new quality payment scheme (QPS), I'll be a much wiser man in a week's time when I get my returns from the factory.

While the fine weather in June may have caused some difficulties with grass, it did provide me with an ideal opportunity to get a large pond cleaned out on my farm.

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Over the years, about two feet of mud had accumulated on the base of this pond and I cannot remember it ever being cleaned out properly before. So, taking advantage of its low level, I got my local contractor to remove all the mud, while at the same time being careful not to disturb the pond's solid stone-lined bottom. As it happens, we got to it just in time as it is filling up nicely again with the recent rain.

The pond's close proximity to an extensive ring fort complex, and an extensive assortment of cultivation ridges, would appear to indicate that it has served an important role for generations of people living and farming in its vicinity, supplying them with a welcome source of water.

The existence of these old sites on many Irish farms acts as a reminder of the vital role that farmers have played -- and continue to play -- in preserving the natural and archaeological heritage of our countryside.

This 'public good', provided free by farmers, seems to be very much overlooked in the current era where the only unit of measurement appears to be money.

Even though there isn't an awful lot to cut at the moment, I feel that it is important not to neglect topping the grazing fields.

Topping is no longer the chore it used to be in the time of the grey Ferguson and the finger-bar mower. However, one particular aspect of topping which never changes is that it allows you lots of time to think.

Last week I was thinking about the current buzz phrase, 'the smart economy'. This is something I believe that cattle farmers discovered years ago. In fact, I'd safely say, we actually invented it. With consistently low farmgate prices, a cattle farmer had to be very smart to survive. The stark reality was that unless you made sure that your costs were cut to the minimum and you farmed in as efficient and productive a manner as possible, you simply went hungry -- and that would not be very smart!

Another thought which crossed my mind during my hours out topping was that it appears that land that was previously setaside as a natural habitat, or fenced off as an archeologically sensitive area in order to conform with the provisions of the old REPS, must now be grazed in order to comply with the provisions of the SFP scheme.

For all those involved, officials, planners and farmers, it is most disappointing to see so much of the good work that had been achieved by REPS now going for nought. I don't believe that this is a smart outcome either.

Irish Independent