Ireland today, August 19, 2013

Last week’s weather gave enough rain to keep crops growing and enough dry weather to get grain in. Unfortunately there were enough hours of wet weather, that Met Eireann, the national weather bureau, had a ‘National Weather Warning’ on their website. ‘Status Yellow. Blight warning. Blight conditions are expected to continue through Wed and Thurs, with very limited opportunities for spraying. Issued Wed, 8/14/13.’ People here take their potatoes very seriously.

Grain in dealer's yard, Tullow

Grain in dealer’s yard, Tullow

Apparently the hot dry weather encouraged spring grains along in good shape, making them ready for harvest a little early. Livestock farmers are aware of a looming shortage of feed. So, there has been a good market for chopping grain before it is ready for the combine and putting it into bunker silos. Another option has been to buy grain from the neighbor’s combine and treat it with urea or a preservative to mix with forages come winter. And the straw market is busy too. Livestock farmers are buying straw for winter bedding and, perhaps, as a forage. As you can see from these pictures, a lot of grain is being delivered into grain depots, with huge piles of grain on paved yards, waiting to go into driers, then into storage. Some farmers have their own driers, and then can store grain at home to sell later. Most put the grain from the combine into a trailer, and haul the trailer to the mill with their tractor. So it is common now to see tractors and trailers on the roads moving grain to market.

Grain in mill's yard

Grain in mill’s yard

With world-wide grain prices moving downwards due to what looks like a huge US corn (maize) crop, harvest-time prices for grain are less than what Irish tillage farmers were hoping for. At Teagasc this week, a friend told about her husband taking a load of winter barley to the mill. He had planted the right variety, and fertilized it right, in order to meet the standards for malting barley. It was rejected because it was a little too high in protein. And the mill would not give a price on buying it as feed barley- he could unload it, and find out the price later. A couple of loads of his, and other farmers’, were rejected due to high protein. This farmer did bring in loads later in the week that met the malting specifications. Barley that will be used to make beer is malting barley. The protein has to be just right in order for the beer’s head to form properly and the fermentation to be just right. Higher protein would be good for a barley going to feed animals, but there is a good premium (about $25/T) paid for malting barley- the feed market is a poor second. Some tillage farmers have contracts with grain buyers, or maltsters, but the grain must meet the specifications. Maltsters take barley and allow it to germinate, and then dry it to stop the seedling from growing any further. This gets the chemical process going to turn the starch in the grain into a sugar that yeast can ferment and turn into beer. Beer and whiskey are big industries here in Ireland, with lots of jobs depending on moving these ag-based products onto the world market.  And this foreign trade is just what the Irish economy needs.  Think Guinness stout and Jamison Irish Whiskey, to name just a couple.

Nice group of Freisian heifers

Nice group of Freisian heifers

There is high interest from farmers with suckler cows to switch to dairy: there could be 20 times more profit per acre. Suckler cows are the same as a beef brood-cow operation. Cows are bred to produce a calf, and then usually the calf is sold in the fall, so only the pregnant cows are over-wintered on the farm. The cow may be a dairy cow, or part-dairy so they will produce a lot of milk, then bred to a beef breed to get some meat onto that calf.
A big article in the ‘Irish Farmers Journal,’ 17 August, 2013, page 28, ‘Profit driven suckler to dairy conversion,’ describes one farmer’s experience. David Kirwan had been a suckler farmer for 32 years, and had developed a good herd of 120 cows. He has been working with Teagasc and the Irish Farmers Journal in a beef production demonstration program. A son will be starting at one of the Teagasc ag-colleges this fall, and David is wants to set up the farm so it could create an income for a second family, in case after graduation, the son wants to come back and farm. If not, he would hire a full time employee or manager.
David applied for dairy quota, and got enough for 55 cows in the first year, and 75 cows this year. He plans on milking 150 in the next few years. Dairy quota ends in April, 2015. The barn was in good shape, but he had to add on, put in a parlor, milk room and calf barn. Plus he made some improvements in lanes and roads to get cows to all of the paddocks, and to get additional drinking water into the paddocks. So far that has cost him about $160,000. Quota was another $80,000, dairy cows cost $200,000 (about $1800/head). He sold his beef herd for $250,000. So, his total investment now is about $1300/cow.
David’s familiarity with cows is obvious when you get into the details. The first batch of dairy cows that he bought was 55 pregnant dry cows, all from one herd. This year he bought another 29 cows, plus 27 heifer calves this year (so they freshen in spring 2015- when the dairy quota ends). In the first year of selling milk, he averaged over 14,000 lbs of milk/cow, while feeding 1.1 T of concentrate per cow. (The national average is about 11,500 lbs of milk/cow, so the difference is due to pasture and cow management.)
David and his wife Isobel thank their Teagasc advisor, Seamus Kearney for helping to guide them. They do not think they should be held out as a ‘how-to’ example of converting to dairy. But they are hopeful that the changes they are making will improve the long-term profitability of their farm.

Ireland today, Aug 9, 2013

The weather is back to a good combination of moisture, sun, and warmth to get that grass growing again. Some second cut silage and wrapped round bales getting harvested. Tillage farmers are working to complete the combining of the winter barley. Everyone is quite pleased with the yields and the grain weight per bushel. Most of the straw is getting baled and put away also. Spring barley is following soon, a bit early due to July’s heat.  I have not seen much combining before, it was interesting yesterday to see little whirlwinds blowing the straw up 20-30 feet into the air. It was a good dry day. 

Dairy and livestock farmers are happy to see the grass growing again, but are still concerned about how much stored feed they will have for this coming winter.  Teagasc has a big push going on to encourage farmers to inventory their feed, estimate how much they will need, and make plans now to cull animals and to line up feed to buy.

Teagasc GM potato plots

Teagasc GM potato plots

Quite a variety of research goes on here at Oak Park. From plant breeding, variety trials, to genome mapping of perennial ryegrass to a GM potato study. 

Yesterday I had lunch with 2 people who are plant researchers here. Both were studying fungus diseases of food crops: wheat and potato. In order for a fungus to infect a plant, the leaf surface must be damp. The dry weather in July was great for the plants, but bad for the fungus studies! The person who worked with the GM potato study had done enough watering to last her for a while.

The GM potato study here is part of a 22-nation study of varieties that are resistant to late blight. Late blight was the disease that caused the loss of several years of crop in the 1840s and ’50s, and the famine that killed a million-and-a-half, and led to the emigration of the same number of Irish people.

Genetically modified crops cannot be grown in the European Union. This ‘AMIGA’ project needed special approval. There are 15 EU member nations participating. You can read about it at and about the potato research at

Teagasc GM Potato Study

Teagasc GM Potato Study

There are informational panels by the experimental plots. To grow potatoes here, it takes up to 15 applications of protective fungicides per growing season. Total value of potato crop losses across the EU is estimated to be $1.3 billion per year. ‘We are not advocates of GM, but we are advocates of public research. We are not producing GM potatoes for production or commercial purposes. Our role is to investigate the potential negative and/or positive impacts of GM technology in regard to this specific GM variety and then inform stakeholders and the general public as to conclusions drawn based on an Irish-specific research study.’

Farmers Journal. There is a good weekly paper here, ‘Irish Farmers Journal.’ In the last couple of weeks these items caught my attention and got me to thinking.
• 3 August, 2013, page 7. The article is ‘July milk powers on.’ The EU dairy marketing quota runs from April 1 to March 31.
o Each nation has a quota, each coop has a quota, and each farm has a quota of quantity of fat. If the country is over quota for the year, your cooop is over quota, and your farm is over quota, you pay a fine based on how much you were over. So famers keep an eye on how they are producing this year compared to last.
o This article says that July 2013 milk supplies have been 8-10% ahead of last year. The nation was 2.6% under quota at the end of June.
o There is a report on how different regions of the country are producing, and even with the late spring, the east is making a lot of milk.
o The article wonders if some farmers will risk paying a fine of half the milk price in the fall.
o The article reports that ‘some larger operators in the east that would not be able to pay (the over-quota fine) have already switched to once a day milking to reduce supply.’

3 August, 2013 page 8. The article is ‘Rabobank’s Henry calls for dairy industry consolidation.’
o ‘Rabobank is the largest lender to the Irish dairy industry.’ Funding both a national dairy exporting service, and major dairy coops.
o The EU dairy marketing quota is scheduled to end in 2015. And the national goal is to make more milk and to export more dairy products. ‘..asked a sticky question about where and how is all the extra milk going to be sold?’  Under the labels of individual coops- like Dairygold? Or under the Irish national brand- Kerrygold? There was no firm answer, but the answer will vary by product.KG_Pure_Irish_Butter-604x414
o There are big supermarkets here from Britain and Germany. A big question is what is the source of their fluid milk, butter and cheese? These supermarkets are major buyers of product in the EU (like Walmart in the US). Will these buyers be able to tempt coops to compete with the Irish national brand in the future? 

One of the big dairy coops is now building a large new processing plant.  It is located near a new motorway (interstate highway) and near a deep-water port.  The plan is to make butter and powder for export.
3 August, 2013 page 14.Danger to environment by Japanese knotweed is highlighted in (Senate).’
o We know this weed as knotweed or Mexican bamboo. It grows mainly along rivers and brooks. And as we learned in the floods 2 years ago, that it is transported downstream in high water, where the roots that were broken in transport easily take root in the fresh silt that was deposited.
o Here in Ireland it is moved by seed, along the roadsides as crews trim the hedges.
o ‘This plant is included in the list of the 100 most invasive alien species of the world.’
o ‘My department is keeping abreast of initiatives currently underway in Britain using a specific insect to control Japanese knotweed.’
o I haven’t seen the plant here in Ireland, but there is a lot of it in Vermont.

Ireland today, August 2, 2013

This has been quite a wet week.  Some real rain that has broken the drought.  Most of the fields have greened back up.  There is still concern about the quantity of forage (fodder) that will be available for the winter. 

I attended a dairy advisor training the other day, part of it was at a dairy farm near the town of Portlaoise.  John, a young fellow who has been operating the farm for 12 years, has a larger than average farm, with about 150 mature dairy cows, plus youngstock.  He has 210 acres, all in one block (which is quite unusual- most farms have parcels spread out over quite an area.)  The land is flat, with good access to all the paddocks (for cows and equipment), with water in each paddock.

He has been planning on a 4 month winter feeding season.  This spring he, like most farmers here, ran out of grass silage and round bales.  Luckily, his neighbor had enough to sell.  Now he is thinking of having enough feed for a longer winter, and trying to build his inventory (over a couple of years) to cover 5 months. 

Friesians and Jerseys at John's farm near Portlaoise, Ireland

Friesians and Jerseys at John’s farm near Portlaoise, Ireland

The 210 A usually provides enough feed.  His farm grows grass, perennial ryegrass.  Each field will be both harvested for haylage (by a contractor) and grazed.  He is averaging about 6 ton/A of dry matter now, and has a goal of getting up to 7.  (Well managed grass in Vermont can be up over 5 T/A.  Ireland has a milder climate, with usually no snow, and cows can start grazing late in March.  The perennial ryegrass- sometimes with clover- is a real high-yielding crop.)  John has been working on getting the pH, phosphorus and potash levels a bit higher, but is having a challenge getting the levels to go up. 

John is hoping to put more cows on when the EU dairy marketing quota ends in March, 2015.  Last year, he shipped about 10,500 lbs/cow, with 3.5% protein and 4.2% fat.  (An average herd would be about 12,500 lbs/cow with 3.4% protein and 4.2% fat.)  The herd is mainly Friesian (a cousin to the Holstein), with some Jerseys and some Holstein- Jersey crossbreds (that he will breed back to Friesians).  He fed a little less than a ton of concentrate per cow last year.  And he was not feeding grain to his youngstock.  He thought he might be a little over his milk quota, so he fed lots of milk to the calves, no grain.  He has a seasonal herd, so his herd started freshening on Feb 6, and half of them had calved by the 19th

6-month old calves, John's farm near Portlaoise, Ireland

6-month old calves, John’s farm near Portlaoise, Ireland

The day we were there, the cows were giving 41 lbs of milk on all the pasture they could eat and 4.5 lbs of grain.  This is a different system than we are used to in Vermont, the Irish goal is to feed that grass and keep total costs down. 

Last week I mentioned the winter barley harvest.  Now it is in the middle of the harvest, waiting for some dry weather to get out there and finish combining.  There is quite a bit of straw in the fields now, most of it in big round or the huge square bales.  I am guessing that as much of it as possible will be put under cover, because if the forage yields are low, there will be buyers looking to feed that straw.  They say that the Spring barley will be next to harvest.  Certain varieties of barley will be bought by malters who will prepare it for fermentation by brewers or distillers.  Other barleys will be used for roasting to go into the several stouts that Ireland is famous for (like Guinness), roasted barley gives it the black color and the roasted taste.  Then quite a bit of the barley will be fed to livestock, either dried, or maybe treated with proprionic acid for putting into a bunker silo. 

Topics of discussion amongst the 40 advisors were:  How to get the grass to grow?  What to do on a farm with not enough silage.  And cash-flow management.

How to get the grass to grow?  It needs rain, heat, time, fertility, and grass.  There is moisture now, and heat.  The thought was that given some time, if a farmer has fertilized, the grass will grow.  Most of the commercial nitrogen that goes on is Calcium Ammonium Nitrate, which will not be lost by volatilization (like urea can be lost).   A challenge now is the days getting shorter, and farmers are hesitant to make hay or haylage in September because they want some leaf on the grass going into the winter.  Grass stays green through the winter here.  One concern is that people do not over-graze now when forage is tight, but leave a good stubble, so that there is grass there to start regrowing, if there is no green showing, the plant has to start from square one.

What to do on a farm with not enough silage?  Line up feed to buy, or cull some cows or heifers early.  The thought was that with a shortage of feed, it hardly makes sense to keep cull cows around to put more weight on them.  Get rid of them sooner rather than later.

And cash-flow management.  Sit down with the books.  Total up income and expense for the year to date, make some estimates for the rest of the year, and see what it looks like.  Now in the fall is when income taxes for 2012 are due, so farmers will be needing cash to pay that.  And if there are open accounts from feed purchased in the spring- coops are beginning to withhold money from milk checks to pay for feed bought through them, so some milk checks are looking a bit thin now.