No feed crisis likely in future rainy Ireland

TORRENTIAL rain at the Ploughing Championships left farmers worrying about the livestock back home, and fearing damage to precious late grazing which could play a vital role in staving off a winter feed crisis.

Depending on where they turned at the Ploughing, there was good news and bad news.

An upbeat Gerry Giggins of Keenan Nutrition said there should be no such thing as a feed crisis in a developed agriculture industry like Ireland’s — a re-assuring verdict from the Irish company which can claim to be the world leader in total mixed ration feeding, and the second largest manufacturer of mixer-wagons internationally.

Few companies have done more to diversify feed availability in Ireland, achieving impressive results with dry cows diets in which up to 50% of the dry matter comes from straw.

According to Giggins, September’s good grass growth has eased fodder problems, and there is also huge availability of straw (evident in towering stacks in fields not too far from last week’s Ploughing).

Commenting on tales of maize selling for €1,000 or thereabouts per acre, he said it was “not outrageous” for a good crop which could deliver seven tons of dry matter.

He said Keenan clients are well placed to face the winter, having had opportunities since last July to secure feed supplies. “I’ve seen worse fodder crises,” he said, pointing out that prices have increased 20% since last year for cull cows and beef cattle, and there is the prospect of good calf prices in the spring.

It’s a time to take advantage of one of the widest ever gaps between production costs and beef prices, not a time for despondency over feed shortages, according to the Keenan nutritionist. “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” was Met Eireann’s message to farmers at the Ploughing who were worried by this year’s unreliable weather pattern.

Whatever about next week’s weather they were pushing forecasting to the limits by giving the outlook up to 54 years ahead.

Agricultural meteorologist Seamus Walsh’s best prediction is average January rainfall from 2021 to 2060 will be 20% heavier than from 1961 to 2000.

July will be 10 to 20% drier; January will be 1 to 1.5 degrees Centigrade cooler, and July will be 1 to 1.5 degrees Centigrade hotter.

Farmers can expect shorter spring sowing times when land dries out, new warm weather parasites and bugs, and more irrigation. Climate change will be the major determinant of the shape of European agriculture in 2012, said ex-Teagasc head Dr Liam Downey at the Ploughing. This prediction comes from the highest level in Europe, from the European Commission’s Foresight Knowledge Sharing Platform, which aims to spread information on the forward-looking research and innovation which will shape Europe’s future.

Dr Downey, who chairs the blueprints expert group setting up the EU’s regional foresight activities, was — on behalf of Keenan Nutrition — reminding farmers at the Ploughing that new 21st Century knowledge-based methods of livestock production are needed.

Nothing less than the transformation which the Agricultural Institute at Moorepark performed in Irish dairy farming is needed now, he warned. He revealed that Keenans intend to play a big role, by using their high fibre, low energy cattle diets to reduce methane emissions (which cause global warming) by 20% or more.

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