In his farming diary, West Cork suckler farmer and columnist with the Irish Farmers Journal, Tommy Moyles covers the lay of the land across all agri and farming enterprises – news, views and people in farming across West Cork and further afield.
Above: Cows split into smaller groups to slow the grass demand. Pic: Tommy Moyles
In farming you get used to years of doing the same work at a certain month, to the point where it becomes routine. Well 2018 is bucking that trend. Normally at this time of year the whole farm is available for grazing and it’s a straightforward case of working to housing and building grass covers from early September. I aim to make silage until the end of July, which frees up more ground for grazing. The situation this year saw over twenty acres still closed for silage at the end of August and that has seen a bit of tweaking to the grazing plans. It will be a case of reassessing the situation after that and seeing what can be done to reduce the fodder deficit.
The results of scanning two weeks ago provided one solution. I’d budgeted for about five empties in total but there were 10 instead. If it was any other year I would have been disappointed but it was a relief this time, as it means ten less to feed for the whole winter.
There were four heifers and four first calvers not in calf. The challenging spring was no help to them but it could be worse. They have thrived throughout the year and the calves on the first calvers are in good shape. Two cows who had been with the bull for the whole breeding season failed to get in calf also. The empty heifers have gone to the finishing group and to take pressure off, grass will be housed and we’ll start on feed.
To jump back up a little in numbers, I can just run a few extra heifers with the bull next year. There is a good crop of heifer calves on the ground this year so after holding back any with feet or temperament issues I’ll continue to let nature decide who stays. It’s very much a no frills breeding policy but it’s very straightforward.
Following scanning, the bull and heifer calves were split and there are now three smaller groups on the home block and that has settled the grass demand in the short term. The cull cow group and their calves are now being fed daily in an effort to get them off the farm sooner.
I spent a few weeks in Australia recently to catch up with my sister and a few other friends out there. I had it planned from a long way out and chose late July, as it is when the farm is on autopilot in terms of the workload. Dry weather changed that plan a little but I had good hands hired in to cover me while I was away.
There are many differences between Irish and Australian farming. While I was there the whole state of New South Wales was declared in drought. The scale is off the charts but then out there is one of what I would call ‘the new world’ farmland. I visited a wheat farmer three hours north of Perth who farmed over 50,000 acres. The shire where he lived, which would be the same as our counties, was roughly the size of county Cork but had the population of about 1,200 people, a little over that of Ardfield/Rathbarry parish.
The scale over there is frightening but equally are the challenges: Fire, floods, droughts, isolation.
I drove 450kms on a dirt road and met one car against me. Going to do a food shop requires a bit more planning than it does here. The same applies with healthcare. In the remote areas if a woman is pregnant then she books into the hospital in the city three weeks ahead of the due date. I love to see how other farmers live, although sometimes it’s not always greener on the other side.
While there I visited a sheep sale, which saw 14,000 sheep sold in two-and-a-half hours. I also caught a cattle sale which began at 8am and by half two it was over with 8,500 animals sold. Prices were fairly en par with at home.
In Irish marts there are a few noticeable patterns developing. On a positive, trade for forward cattle, be they cows, bullocks or heifers has been relatively good. The same can be said of young weanling bulls over 400kgs – suitable for an Under 16 month bull system. Most of these type of animal would be fed for 60 to 120 days and in the case of very fleshed cows, even less, so they present less risk to the purchaser.
For store type cattle that will be around for a lot longer it’s a different tale. As a consequence of drought in the southern and eastern part of the country, fodder is scarcer than other years and this stock would have a higher risk attached. Because of this, prices for plainer stock are back on other years.
At the factory end beef prices seem to be holding relatively good after a bit of a blip in July, as a few under-finished stock came on the market and prices dropped on the back of this.
When it comes to milk price, West Cork co-ops are once again setting the pace. All four (Drinagh, Barryroe, Bandon and Lisavaird) lifted their July milk price 0.13c/kg milk solids (MS) or the equivalent of 1c/l for July supplies. This puts the West Cork milk prices for July an average of 0.33c/kg MS (or 2.6c/l) ahead of the bigger national co-ops.
Response to the drought has been proactive with financial institutions moving to work with farmers in this trying year.
Locally, Skibbereen and Bandon credit union launched a fodder support loan, as a measure to deal with the added costs of this summer’s challenging weather. The new ‘acre fodder loan’ offers a borrowing of up to €20,000 and the Credit Union is offering repayments on a monthly, seasonal or annual basis. Their aim is to minimise farmers’ cashflow risk by spreading the unforeseen cost over the next few seasons.
Dominic Casey of Muintir Credit Union in Skibbereen said: “We recognise that farmers are in difficulty and that current cashflow is a problem. Our ethos in the Credit Union is to support the farmer and the local community. The loan is in response to the fodder crisis. Our aim is to allow farmers to buy what they need now.”
Department of Agriculture
The Department of Agriculture has been responding too, putting in place provisions for the importing of forage from outside the island of Ireland, This will be run through co-ops and registered importers between August 12 and the end of this year.
Hay, haylage, maize or grass silage, alfalfa and any other type of forage deemed acceptable to the Department by prior approval will be eligible for the payment.
To avail of the scheme farmers must contact their co-op or importer to access supported supplies.
It is important to note that no payments will be made directly to farmers, as the scheme will support transport costs incurred by importers.
Minister Michael Creed announced a fodder production incentive measure for tillage farmers in early August. The aim is to provide additional fodder to livestock farmers experiencing serious shortages. Participating tillage farmers will be paid €100/ha to sow brassica crops and €155/ha for certain short-term grass species. The crop must be growing eight weeks before grazing/harvesting. Crops must be sown by September 15 to be considered eligible for support. The deadline for applications for the measure is September 17.
In a welcome move the Department of Agriculture also extended the deadlines for spreading chemical fertiliser and slurry by two weeks. Chemical fertiliser can now be spread until September 30 and slurry until October 30. Farmers are recommended to try and spread fertiliser and slurry earlier rather than later to avail of higher growth rates and utilisation.
A Taste of West Cork
A Taste of West Cork Food Festival is one of the big events taking place in early September, and to me, it shows what we can do in terms of food production in out locality. I remember seeing a poster West Cork Leader produced a few years ago featuring all the food products of West Cork and it probably should have had a place in all schools in the area. The diversity of food production in such a small area is astounding and the A Taste of West Cork festival goes a long way in highlighting this. It’s possible that we either take food for granted or even don’t make the connection between what we produce and the end product at times. An example of this is that there are still farmers out there who don’t realise that while we sell cattle to the factories, we are paid for beef.
As part of the festival, our West Cork Farm Tours venture will be hosting tours on Friday, September 14 and booking is essential.