Fuel costs can lead to lower silage quantity and quality

Escalating fuel costs could lead to a decline in the quantity and quality of silage, it was heard at the inaugural meeting of the National Forage and Food Security Committee, held today (Friday March 11).

The committee was formed earlier this week in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has been tasked with preparing an industry response to the emerging input crisis.

During today’s meeting, held at Teagasc Moorepark in County Cork, and addressed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Teagasc gave an overview of the sectors, in terms of what is needed to ensure sufficient forage is achieved for the coming year.

With regard to the dairy sector, the meeting learned that the current grass covers on dairy farms are quite good, at around 960 kg/ha.

However, with a high percentage of cows now calving, demand is starting to increase.

Teagasc said the priority now is the application of nitrogen fertilizer for grass growth from March to April, when yields of over 18 kg/ha are realistic.

However, applying less nitrogen – due, for example, to high costs – will lead to a reduction in silage area and lower yield.

Teagasc said a minimum of 100 kg of nitrogen per hectare, including slurry, is a priority.

Current fodder situation

Livestock farms, the meeting learned, are well supplied with silage, on average, but farmers should aim for a target of 400kg dry matter (DM), or two bales per cow, in reserve .

However, 12% of cattle farms and 8% of dairy farms have silage deficits. The inability to make a second cut of silage last year is a major factor in the current shortages.

Teagasc plans to carry out a forage survey in April and July.

These farms face problems in the fall if the supply is tight.

Diet and Supplementation

A major issue for dairy farmers is the price and availability of feed concentrates, but nitrogen fertilizer continues to yield more feed DM per unit cost than concentrate.

Relatively high milk prices could delay changes to supplementation rates and Teagasc needs to prepare guidelines on the cost-benefit response to grass-fed supplements.

The availability of rations with adequate mineral inclusion at low feeding rates is important.

Marginal cows should be considered as the the typical cost of feeding a marginal cow is expected to increase by 40% in 2022, excluding overheads.

Crop trade can be reduced, but it should be avoided – contracts and costs are essential for whole crop/break crop silage trade with growers, the meeting said.

Financing on farms

In terms of financing and managing dairy farms, the meeting heard that merchant credit is currently a problem for farmers.

At a crucial time of year for nitrogen fertilizer and feed purchases, and with the cost of fuel and general input costs rising dramatically, this is problematic.

Cash flow issues at farm level can limit post-silage lime application and capital project budgets/costs increase extremely sharply.

The availability of quality labor is a critical issue on many farms, adding stress to already stressed businesses, Teagasc said.

And he said regular communication with farmers will be key to promoting better decision-making around fuel, feed and fertiliser.

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