‘Maximising grass growth and use is top priority’

The View from Northern Ireland: Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) President Harry Sinclair has said as autumn rolls in the top priority for grassland farmers is to ensure that grass growth and use are maximised, especially in light of the fodder crisis earlier this year.

The UFU has also called on the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to extend the chemical fertiliser application period to the 30 September in an effort to help prolong the grass-growing period. The comments were made following the latest meeting of the Northern Ireland Fodder Taskforce.

Sinclair said: “With summer ending and autumn just around the corner now is the time many farmers will be thinking about how they can make the most of their grass and in some cases may be trying to eke out another cut of silage. The fodder crisis earlier this year hit many farmers hard but the good weather this summer has gone a long way to alleviate difficulties.

“However, there were some drier areas in Northern Ireland where the grass didn’t grow as well during the summer. We believe that extending the chemical fertiliser application period for an extra two weeks, until 30 September, would help to prolong the growing period in these areas particularly given the present good weather and we have asked DARD to seriously consider this.”

In Ireland such an extension was granted a way back in May 2013.

“I do not see why the same cannot be done here,” the UFU president stressed. “DARD would at least be giving farmers the option, in what has been a very difficult grazing season, to decide for themselves if they believe that they would get an economic response from applying chemical fertiliser until the end of this month.

“Overall, we are still experiencing favourable weather as we head into September so hopefully we will be able to keep livestock grazing out in the fields for as long as possible in the coming weeks. Farmers will also be thinking about spreading slurry ahead of the coming winter and with higher soil temperatures than normal for this time of year, organic and chemical fertilisers will help to give a boost to grass growth.”

Taskforce

The UFU has been actively involved in the NI Fodder Taskforce since its establishment, which was created to address the short, medium and long-term issues arising from the poor growing conditions experienced over the past couple years and that came to a head this spring.

Sinclair continued: “At the most recent meeting of the NI Fodder Taskforce, we again raised our key issues that included an extension to the chemical fertiliser application period. We have continued to press for an urgent conclusion on the introduction of approved finishing units for cattle from TB restricted herds and we have also stressed that given the challenging year farmers have faced they cannot afford to have a delay in their Single Farm Payment. We are expecting the Minister and her Department to make every effort to ensure that there is a significant improvement in the number of Single Farm Payments paid in December 2013. We are also looking in the medium term to secure funding for a land improvement scheme to increase the industry’s productive capacity, which ties in with the ‘Growing for Growth’ report recently published by the Northern Ireland Agri-food Strategy Board.”

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