Looks like 2012-2013 win­ter all over again

Irish Examiner - Farming - - FINANCE/BEEF SECTOR - Kieran Cough­lan www.cough­lanac­count­ing.com

East­erly winds last week brought a wel­come dry­ing of the land, but were fol­lowed by del­uges that un­did the ben­e­fits of dry­ing winds. Dairy stock in par­tic­u­lar are begin­ning to be turned out to grab a bit of grass in be­tween the show­ers, but we are a long way from full time turn-out.

The soft­ness of the land is just one is­sue to con­tend with, the more wor­ry­ing is­sue is that grass swards are light, re­growth is near non-ex­is­tent, and op­por­tu­ni­ties to spread fer­tiliser are very lim­ited. In any event, soil tem­per­a­tures are still low, gen­er­ally be­low the magic seven de­grees needed for growth, ac­cord­ing to Met Eire­ann’s me­te­o­rol­ogy data for last week. How­ever, these tem­per­a­tures have im­proved this week, to be­tween 6.4 and 9.2 de­grees across the coun­try. The ex­tended fore­cast has night time tem­per­a­tures to re­main marginally above freez­ing, and with no sign of milder nights, re­al­is­ti­cally, it will be some time be­fore growth gets go­ing prop­erly. Growth in­creases rapidly with each de­gree of tem­per­a­ture change mov­ing up from 7 to 13 de­grees; cold nights there­fore have a big bear­ing on grass growth. Tea­gasc’s Pas­ture­base web­site re­veals cur­rent growth rates are in sin­gle dig­its right across the coun­try, with de­mand out­strip­ping de­mand by many mul­ti­ples.

The fod­der cri­sis of the win­ter of 2012/2013 is still well re­mem­bered by many farm­ers, and the cur­rent weather pat­tern and more par­tic­u­larly the lack of growth is begin­ning to look sim­i­lar. That win­ter pe­riod was one of the long­est on record, with soil tem­per­a­tures for April 2013 re­main­ing stub­bornly low, and bit­ing winds, with grass growth stalled. Fod­der was im­ported from the UK and France, with coops and marts across the coun­try mo­bilised to or­gan­ise fod­der ship­ments.

The lessons learned from that time should be re­called: Cal­cu­late the quan­tity of fod­der stocks re­main­ing; be it the num­ber of silage bales left in the heap, or the vol­ume of silage left in the pit. Mon­i­tor how much fod­der you are us­ing per day; it’s best to work out your av­er­age us­age over two or three days, be­cause some lots may get fresh silage over dif­fer­ent in­ter­vals.

Cal­cu­late the num­ber of days of for­age you have left, based on your cur­rent us­age and stock lev­els.

If you ex­pect to run out of fod­der be­fore all an­i­mals are turned out to grass, con­sider what types of fod­der you can pur­chase lo­cally, whether you have the ca­pac­ity to in­crease meal feed­ing (with­out sick­en­ing an­i­mals) or in­tro­duce al­ter­na­tive fod­ders such as hay or beet. If sourc­ing bales, con­sider neigh­bours for con­ve­nience.

If fod­der is dif­fi­cult to source try your lo­cal con­trac­tor.

Con­trac­tors gen­er­ally have a very good han­dle on which cus­tomers have a lot of fod­der left over.

Ask your lo­cal meal mer­chants if they can sup­ply a cheaper ra­tion suit­able for higher rates of feed­ing and with more fill fac­tor. Con­sider what an­i­mals near fin­ish­ing can be off­loaded sooner than what you planned.

Where funds are tight, con­sider of­fload­ing some an­i­mals in or­der to free up cash flow, en­gage with your bank and mer­chant early in or­der to put suf­fi­cient credit fa­cil­i­ties in place. Spread fer­tiliser now, to get grass grow­ing at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity.

Don’t over­graze or poach fields, as this will im­pact on re­growth lev­els and only com­pounds dif­fi­cul­ties. Graze silage ground, where con­di­tions al­low Start think­ing about next win­ter’s fod­der bud­get. The cold weather and cold soil tem­per­a­tures may im­pact on silage crops to be taken this May and June. Con­sider re­duc­ing stock num­bers, max­imis­ing growth for the com­ing sea­son by in­creas­ing fer­tiliser ap­pli­ca­tions. Con­sider link­ing up with lo­cal tillage farm­ers who may grow beet, maize, whole-crop or grass silage on con­tract for you.

Now is the time to do this, be­fore spring plant­ing be­gins. For tillage farm­ers, the fod­der short­age may present op­por­tu­ni­ties to stray away from break-even ,tra­di­tional crop­ping, into con­tract grow­ing of maize, beet or even silage.

It is im­por­tant to put a con­tract in place that en­sures you get paid in ad­vance of har­vest, and that de­fault of pay­ment voids your con­tract. For farm­ers run­ning out of fod­der, where you feel un­able to man­age the sit­u­a­tion your­self, call for help from neigh­bours, farm or­gan­i­sa­tions or the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s An­i­mal Wel­fare on 0761-064408 or 01-6072379. On a pos­i­tive note, all things must pass, and this tough spring pe­riod will even­tu­ally be re­placed with long warm sunny days, it’s just a case of sur­vival un­til then!

Char­tered tax ad­viser Kieran Cough­lan, Bel­go­oly, Co Cork. (086) 8678296

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