Where is the most productive land in Ireland?
Most would probably point to the hurling counties of East Munster and South Leinster, followed by the horsy counties, Meath and Kildare.
But new information, revealed at the recent Moorepark open day, showed the gap in productive potential between so-called “good” farming counties and those in the North and West is not nearly so large as we have believed.
Back in the 1970s, when John Lee from the National Soil Survey compared potential stocking rates of soils, soils most prevalent in Cork and Waterford had the highest grazing capacity, of 227 livestock units per 100 ha (with application of 48 kg of nitrogen).
Many other soils had capacity under 150 livestock units; the soils most prevalent in Connacht and the North West were given stocking rate capacities of 135, 195 and 212 livestock units.
Now, researchers in Moorepark have created a web-based grass management tool called PastureBase Ireland, into which 764 commercial farms and 15 research farms across the country supply weekly data on grass growth (they would welcome more participants).
These data show, for example, that 2014 was a much better year for grass growth than 2013, rising to 13.9 tonnes on participating farms in 2014, compared with 12.3 tonnes in 2013 (the national average on all farms is only 7.5 tonnes of grass utilised per hectare).
On 53 participating farms in 2014, PastureBase Ireland measurements had been taken more than 35 times over the year. The gold medal (18.8 tonnes) went to a farm in Longford, while the silver went to Kerry (18.1).
Neither county is noted for its hurlers or its horses!
A specific example comes from the Teagasc Ballyhaise Agricultural College in Co Cavan, where the average production over the last five years has been 14.8 tonnes.
In Cavan, the dominant soil type, according to Lee’s study in the 1970s, had a potential stocking rate of 178 per 100 hectares, with 48kg of nitrogen — 78% behind the stocking level then expected on the best soils.
It’s not the location but the management that matters.
Regional averages were 14 tonnes for 28 farms in Munster; the same figure for 16 farms in Leinster; and 12.7 tonnes for nine participants in Connacht/ Ulster — only 10% behind Munster or Leinster, a much smaller difference than would have been expected from looking at soil survey analysis — and smaller too than the differences in rental and sale prices for land between the provinces.
A recent survey by Teagasc and the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland showed that the cost of renting grazing land in 2014 varied from €180 per acre (€444 per hectare) in Munster to €148 in Leinster and €122 in Connacht/Ulster.
These regional differentials are higher than seem justified by the latest data on grass growth. These rates were 12% higher than the previous year in Munster, 3% higher in Leinster, but 5% lower in Connacht/Ulster.
For further information on PastureBase Ireland, see the www.pasturebase.teagasc.ie website or contact Micheál O’Leary in Moorepark at 087-9309936.
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