A national seminar recently held in Portlaoise focused on ways to improve farm returns through better resource management.
The seminar was part of an initiative led by the IFA, called Smart Farming, which brings together the knowledge of Teagasc, UCD, SEAI, EPA, and others, and communicates it in a targeted way in an effort to improve farm incomes. And it delivers results.
During 2014,more than 600 farmers across the country participated in this voluntary initiative. The farmers who partook in the on-farm cost saving studies were all members of discussion groups. The average cost saving was a substantial €6,600.
These savings were delivered by focusing on doing things better in eight key areas: Feed, grassland, water, inputs, time management, soil fertility, regular machinery maintenance, and energy use.
Addressing soil fertility remains a key issue on many farms. Mark Plunkett from Teagasc explained at the seminar that by correcting soil pH and regularly liming, farmers can get an extra €180 per acre.
This would come from the increased production of good quality grass, which is almost four times cheaper than concentrates, as a feedstuff. The opportunity to achieve this is significant, with only 10% of soils having optimal lime, phosphorous and potassium levels.
The first step to achieving this is soil sampling. This time of the year can be ideal for sampling, which should take place every three to five years. Samples should be taken every five to 10 acres, with a minimum of 20 soil cores. The average cost for soil sampling is 50c/acre per year and if an extra €180 per acre can be got by responding to the results then it’s good value for money.
Karina Pierce from UCD highlighted the fact that feed costs are the biggest variable cost on livestock farms. Therefore it is critical to reduce feed costs by focusing on the most important things: Making good quality silage and buying the most suitable rations.
It’s not always possible to make the best silage, due to weather and contractor availability. However, it is worth considering that the amount of concentrates that a dairy cow requires will increase by 4% for each 1% decline in silage quality (dry matter digestibility). The figures are similar for other livestock.
Key to remember is that the cheapest ration is not always the best value. When thinking about buying rations, the things to consider are the energy, protein, mineral and fibre content; with energy content being most important.
Remember, high protein does not mean high energy and high crude protein does not tell us anything about the quality of protein. Bottom line, you should ask the merchant for the list of ingredients and quantity of each per tonne.
With over €500m being spent on energy each year by farmers, cost savings can be made here as well.
Eileen O’Leary from the Clean Technology Centre in Cork Institute of Technology advised that any farmer who uses more than 20% of electricity between 11pm and 8am at this time of year should look at installing a night rate meter. This would cut the cost of electricity during these times by almost 50%.
Improvements can also be made by examining energy use and considering using energy efficient light bulbs around the farm.
Smart Farming is now in its second year, with the cost-saving studies beginning this year in Vicarstown, Co Cork.
The initiative is delivering real cost savings for farmers but it is also enhancing the rural countryside.
Measures adopted by farmers who participated will result in: Less risk of run-off to water courses; extended grazing on grass; better targeting of fertilizer application; reduced energy and inputs use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the sector and continued compliance with environmental obligations.
This is sustainable intensification in action, delivering the double dividend of saving farmers money and maximising output, while protecting the environment.
Applications to have a free on-farm cost-saving study completed on your farm can be made to email@example.com or 01-4260343.
Harold Kingston is chairman of the IFA Environment and Rural Affairs Committee
Key to remember is that the cheapest ration is not always the best value. Consider the energy, protein, mineral and fibre content
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