Can Kiwi drought plans help ease pressure on Irish farms?

“A slow, wet winter and an unprecedented dry spring” has left Irish farmers questioning their management practices, according to Sean Chubb, LIC Pasture for Profit Consultant.

However, Chubb believes that New Zealand drought strategies should be adapted by Irish farmers in an attempt to manage current climatic conditions.

Highlighting the most pressing issues, Chubb offers farmers this advice on best management practices:

“First and foremost, know your feed requirements – how much feed is on hand? How much is required to fill the deficit? And what will be needed for winter requirements?” said Chubb.

You must know what you need before you can decide on how to best produce it.

Chubb warns farmers against the dangers of “biting off more than you can chew” and advises farmers to break feed plans into “manageable time frames” of 10 to 15 days.

“A lot can change within the space of a few days so don’t try and plan for the unknown – work within a realistic timeline,” said Chubb.

According to the consultant, “maximising forage availability is key” and now is the “ideal time to clear out any unproductive animals in order to reduce your feed demand”.

Pasture management

As another week of high temperatures and minimal rainfall is forecast, farmers have been advised to revisit their grassland management plans.

“Farmers must have a strong grassland strategy in place,” urges Chubb.

According to the LIC representative, farmers should “aim to get the grass rotation out to 30 to 40 days – while avoiding the temptation to overgraze.

If the sward is grazed below 4cm it will deplete the plant energy stores and slow down recovery when the rain comes.

If overgrazing is becoming an issue, Chubb advises farmers to “move cows onto a sacrifice paddock“.

The practice of leaving higher covers to retain moisture in the soil is often contemplated at times of low rainfall.

However, according to Chubbs, this will have “little to no effect” on retaining moisture in the soils.

The consultant stresses that nitrogen fertiliser application is “ineffective and a waste of money”. Farmers should skip nitrogen fertiliser applications until rain is forecast.

Financial stress

As ‘The Beast from the East’, coupled with extreme drought conditions, has undoubtedly affected farm business cash flow this year, Chubb advises farmers to:

Act quickly so you know exactly where you stand from a financial perspective.

“Update your financial budgets reflecting lower milk production income and increased feed costs and communicate with the bank on your working capital requirements,” said the representative.

Most importantly Chubb urges farmers to “stay optimistic“.

“Keep focused on controlling the controllable.You’re not alone and remember there are constructive changes that you can make to ease the current challenges,” he said.