Macra: Young farmer scheme to maximise grass potential

Initiatives such as Origin Green and Food Wise 2025 promote Ireland’s sustainability credentials, writes Sean Finan, current president of Macra na Feirme.

Internationally, Ireland’s grass-based system is seen as being world class and our unique selling point. However, there is huge potential for improvement in grass utilisation on farms through further investment.

In some sectors, sufficient profitability levels do not exist to drive investment without grant aid. Research shows that many Irish farms are only producing 50% of their grass growth capability.

Macra na Feirme and young farmers recognise the potential that grass has to drive profitability at farm level. Improvements in soil fertility is required but equally investment is required in the infrastructure which drives utilisation of grass.

Macra na Feirme recently met with Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and his officials and presented him with our proposal for an amendment to be made to the Rural Development Programme to include grazing infrastructure under TAMS (Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes).

Our proposal fits into the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine 2017 year of “Sustainable Grassland” initiative. A scheme which incentivises investment in grazing infrastructure is required.

Implementation of this proposal will result in investment at farm level which will aid the strategic development of the industry. Not only would there be an economic return on investment but also an environmental and sustainability return.

What do we mean by grazing infrastructure? Our proposal contains details of new farm roadways and grazing platform water infrastructure including water piping and troughs with the option to include underpasses to be further investigated.

The need for a scheme of this nature has been verified by a recent Macra survey of young farmers where 89% of respondents want a grazing infrastructure scheme included under TAMS.

Our submission proposes that all young farmers under 40 years of age would be eligible for a 60% grant aid with a maximum investment ceiling of €80,000. Farmers in partnership arrangements would be eligible for the scheme.

That planning permission would not be required for the road and water infrastructure. The cost of establishing the water source (i.e. well drilling), would not be included in the scheme.

Water infrastructure would include the pipe and trough infrastructure from the source to the grazing platform. A farm plan which outlines the new farm road network, water pipe and troughs network to be installed would have to be completed and submitted with the application for the grant.

Our proposal would:

  • Improve efficiency and profitability at farm level, thus reducing emissions and contributing to the climate change agenda.
  • Reduce production costs due to increases in grass utilization and extension of the grazing season as a result of better access to the grazing platform via the roadway infrastructure.
  • Result in less damage to soils on heavy soil farms at entrances to paddocks/fields due to multiple access points onto a farm roadway. This would also see less nitrogen leaching and less release of greenhouse gases.
  • Help a move away from set stocking to more paddock / rotational grazing systems.
  • Increase utilisation of slurry due to better access to the whole farm.
  • Help to achieve increased grass utilisation targets in Food Wise 2025.
  • Result in significant levels of employment and economic activity in rural areas.

Teagasc Beef 2016 and Dairy manuals clearly articulate the financial returns and increase in profitability for farmers on investment in grazing infrastructure. Every extra tonne of grass Dry Matter utilised is worth an extra €160 in additional farm profit.

Every extra day grazing is worth €2.70 per cow/day. Increasing live weight gain through improved utilisation of grass by +0.1 Kg/day will result in an increase in profitability of €78 per hectare.

Our proposal contains costing based on Teagasc figures in the Dairy Manual 2016 of (€25 per metre) for new farm roadways and costings for water infrastructure including water piping and troughs.

The areas currently prioritised for capital investment under TAMS II are multi-faceted — including enabling growth and expansion, environmental and climate change issues, supporting increased efficiency of holdings and improved animal health and welfare.

The construction of farm roadways and installation of water infrastructure meets all of the themes above.

An improvement in grazing infrastructure will help extend the grazing season on all farms but particularly on farms with more marginal land and allowing for more grass to be utilised.

We continue to provide training opportunities on grass measuring and utilisation to young farmers via our Macra na Feirme young farmer Skillnet programme.

Our proposal on grazing infrastructure warrants serious consideration from an investment in Ireland’s climate change mitigation strategy and agricultural output and we look forward to discussing it further with all stakeholders.


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