By Danny Noone.
This submission might appear controversial to many of the Farming community and might pose more questions than answers but it should be noted that this will hopefully be part 1 of possibly a 3 part submission with part 2 in 2017 starting to provide some of the testing results.
60% of Irish Dry stock Farmers (namely Beef and Sheep) are largely unprofitable in Ireland, dipping into their Basic Payments to support the dry stock enterprise, with the remaining 30% surviving on waiver thin margins. This has largely resulted from practices that have developed following the intensification of agriculture (driven in part by agricultural subsidies from the '80s & 90's) and from declining animal health status resulting from increased chemical use. The intensification required products and practices such as chemical fertiliser use, Pesticides use, Animal housing and an array of veterinary products and practices designed to counteract serious animal ill health issues largely attributed to the forgoing products and practices. This has in turn pushed Dry Stock Farming into a continuous spiral of increasing costs, increasing workload, increased capital requirements and little or no profitability.
Most Intensive Dry stock farmers know deep down that they are overstocked but feel compelled to continue not only to justify or indeed repay significant capital expenditure on Buildings and Equipment but also in some cases satisfy sometimes rather large egos. Their Grasslands have evolved into over fertilised, shallow rooting mono-cultures of rye-grasses with little medicinal benefit to livestock (hence the veterinary issues) and fragile compacted soil structures. At the other extreme non-intensive, mainly small part time Farmers, are increasingly incentivised to de-stock (or no stock in some cases) and adopt environmental practices some of which will help Bio diversity but are of no benefit to incentivising Farmers to adopt and develop sustainable Dry stock farming practices. Some larger farmers have also adopted this route mainly out of disillusionment with intensification as outlined.
The solution to all of this involves the adoption of farming practices successfully implemented in the US, the UK and New Zealand which involve a radical change of Grass species, grazing practices, winter keep, inputs and to some extent stocking rates. One very important question each farmer should ask is how much of their costs comprise the following:
- Winter Forage costs – silage/hay
- Fertiliser costs
- Veterinary costs
- Slurry/Farm Yard manure spreading costs
These 4 costs alone, directly or indirectly, account for circa 80 – 90% of most Farm operating costs and make Drystock farming largely unprofitable.
Farming practices required to make Dry Stock Farming profitable largely either eliminate or largely reduce the requirement for the above and include the following:
- Return to highly diversified deep rooting Grass species
- A clever approach to outdoor wintering
- A clever approach to green manuring
- Much enhanced Cell/Rotational grazing practices
- And some reduction in stocking rates combined with modifications to the “farming Calendar”
For the purposes of this illustration I am not going to go into these practices in detail as I am currently testing them on a phased basis on a sheep farm under Irish Conditions and on a typical West of Ireland Farm with its fair share of marginal land. But suffice to say that at this point I can demonstrate significant success in the categories tested to date with results to follow in 2017 (but it is very early days yet).
It is my intention to return to this forum next year to demonstrate some of the results on the above and prove that the above practices are suitable under Irish conditions and can return Dry stock Farming in Ireland to profitability. As a young man growing up I will always recall an old saying from a family friend and a wise man…
Full stock no profit……..Half stock all profit