Opinion

It’s not too late for a New Year resolution or two

I often get the impression that only a very small fraction of the invaluable advice put out into the public domain by organisations such as Teagasc is ever taken on board by farmers.

And there is some evidence to back this up. For example, it is estimated that 90% of Irish soils are deficient in one or other of the main nutrients.

And why is this? The answer lies in the significant under commitment at farm level, where actual soil testing is concerned.

The benefits of soil testing and matching results with fertiliser and liming requirements have been known about for decades. So it’s not new science.

Moreover, agriculture has been the beneficiary of continuous technological developments, all focused on allowing the industry to become more efficient. The breakthrough in GPS-based land management systems is a case in point.

It’s hard not to conclude that significant numbers of Irish farmers remain content to muddle on, using a management approach that does not challenge or inconvenience them.

What a waste of both our human and land resources.

The New Year is with us and in the spirit of encouraging a new enthusiasm for agriculture at an individual farm level, let me make the following suggestion or two.

Soil testing is one of the most invaluable management tools available to farmers the world over. It also costs next to nothing to have an entire Irish farm analysed.

So before the slurry ban ends, can I suggest a relaxed walk around the farm, gather the requisite number of soil samples and have them submitted for analysis.

But that’s only half the project completed: once the results come back, actively taken on board the fertiliser and liming programme recommendations supplied.

The end result could be the beginning of a new era where the true value of slurry and other fertilisers are realised.

In a similar vein, livestock farmers should have the silage they are feeding this winter submitted for analysis.

And this advice is as relevant to a sheep farmer with breeding ewes as it is to an intensive farmer. At one level, a silage analysis will allow farmers formulate a total ration that meets the exact nutritional needs of their stock.

In other words, it takes the guesswork out of feeding. Silage analysis will also allow farmers to identify specific mineral imbalances that will be directly impacting on stock performance.

So, again, this is a win:win scenario that comes with a minimal price tag.

The final suggestion is directed specifically at dairy farmers. And it is encapsulated in the following question: do you milk record? If not: shame on you.

The use of the results which this service can generate underpins the value of almost every management decision taken by milk producers.

I was speaking to a veterinarian recently who said that he is now actively promoting the use of selective dry cow therapy to his dairy farming clients.

He views it as a way of saving costs while allowing the milk sector to address the challenge of antibiotic usage. But, unfortunately, it is a technique that can only be implemented if the cell count record of individual cows is known.

And, of course, milk recording makes this information available as a matter of routine.

These are only a few examples of commitments that Irish farmers could make to bring their businesses on to the next level.

The Chinese proverb tells us that the longest journey starts with the smallest step. So why not make 2017 the year when farmers across Ireland decide to actively engage in just one new approach to management?

One that is geared to taking the guess work out of the decisions they actually take.

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