Stephen Cadogan: Farm-to-farm trading can underpin grain market

Buying wheat, barley or oats off the combine, and storing it with any of the available treatment methods, will provide livestock farmers with a high-energy, top quality feed for less than €190 per tonne.

This will reduce total concentrate costs by €50-80 per tonne.

For example, many beef producers feed very high levels of cereals to finishing cattle.

Most of these are feeding young bulls to finish under 16 months, and a very good method of feeding ad-lib cereals to cattle is by treating the grain with an additive that increases the pH to an alkaline level of around 9.0, which enhances the protein content.

This option allows the beef producer feed all native cereals, eliminating imported materials which are often of inferior quality.

The high pH prevents the acidosis normally associated with high starch feeding.

For those intending to feed 6-8 kg to steers or heifers this winter, the high pH feed with enhanced protein would be a complete feed to balance grass silage, along with a mineral supplement.

Buying grain off the combine can enable dairy and cattle farmers control costs in line with the low beef and milk prices, without compromising on animal performance.

The quality of the locally grown grain is likely to be as least as good as a compound ration containing imported grain and by-products.

For example, an 18% high energy dairy ration made from 10% rolled beans, 20% rolled oats, 20% dry rolled barley, 30% alkaline treated wheat, 10% soybean meal, and 10% beet pulp can be one of the the most economical options.

For grain growers, selling off the combine can underpin the grain market, and the early sale can reduce their interest payments.

Therefore, one of the ways Agriculture Minister Michael Creed can help the grain industry is by removing any impediments to farm-to-farm grain trading, as well as encouraging maximum inclusion of native Irish cereals in compound feeds.

Farm-to-farm grain trading could be helped by advising farmers on the best grain treatment, and the best choice of barley, wheat or oats, and the best moisture contents, for whatever type of dairy or beef animals are to be fed.

Some methods enable longer storage than others, and some treatment methods enhance the grain’s feed value.

Many of these methods reduce or eliminate the expense involved in drying grain, with a positive effect in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

Farm-to-farm trading is versatile, ranging from fermented whole-crop silage (no limit on the amount fed, if it is balanced properly for protein and minerals) to alkaline grain (various cereals, a wide harvest window, can be stored indoors or outdoors for up to 12 months, enhances grain protein 4-5%).

In all cases, there are many simple and low cost grain storage methods that comply with Quality Assurance Scheme requirements.

Farm-to-farm trading is one of the few reliable options available to the government to help tillage farmers, who say their sector is in imminent danger of collapse, due to a combination of four successive years of prices that do not cover production costs, and this year’s reduced yields.

Otherwise, tillage farmers depend on EU action — to reduce fertiliser or agro-chemical prices, make lower cost working capital available, increase GLAS payments, extend protein cropping which attracts a coupled payment, or reduce compliance for greening.

Waiting for EU action in these areas may not be a good option.

It remains to be seen how successful feed rations of all Irish grains will be.

All Irish Rations is a commendable effort by IFA and co-ops, taking advantage of the increase in the supply of quality Irish protein crops, which allows compound feed millers produce rations exclusively made from high quality feed ingredients such as wheat, oats, barley, peas and beans exclusively produced in Ireland.

But if milk and cattle prices remain low, dairy and beef farmers may have no option but to go the cheaper route of buying off the combine and processing grain on the farm.

With beef cattle requiring less protein in feed, a farmer with vermin-proof storage can save €80-€90 per tonne of feed by buying off the combine.


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