While recent reports indicate some improvement in dairy markets, dairy farmers cannot afford to lessen their focus on cost control for 2015, according to Teagasc.

It says that there are two main reasons for this: firstly, the relentless upward trend in milk production costs; and, secondly, the additional costs associated with expansion.

“Unless there is a among farmers focus on cost control, there is a real risk that individuals other than the farmer producing milk will be the ones to benefit,” it says.

With this is mind Teagasc has the following advice to farmers on reducing two of the bigger cost items: meal feeding and fertiliser. Teagasc will also be providing advice on how to tackle other cost items over the coming months.

Meal feeding costs

  • Meal feeding costs typically accounted for 19% of total costs/L in 2014.
  • Including more grass in the cows’ diet will reduce this cost; this will require you to be more focused on grassland management.
  • There is plenty of grass on farms at present. For most herds on grass full-time during March, 3kg meals should be the maximum feed level and this should be reduced when grazing conditions are good.
  • Aim for 1-2kg/cow/day during April and no meals from mid May onwards.
  • You can decide in the autumn whether meal feeding is justified.
  • In general, there is a bigger saving to be made by focussing on reducing quantities fed than on price/t. Nonetheless, shop around for the best value but do not compromise on ration quality, which should be assessed on an energy (UFL) basis.
  • High protein ingredients add cost/t and may not be necessary where good quality grass is offered. A concentrate containing 0.94 UFL and 14% CP will be adequate.

Fertiliser costs

  • Fertiliser costs typically accounted for 12% of total costs/L in 2014.
  • Soil test so that phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertiliser isn’t wasted. Focus on maintenance dressings of P and K early in the year and on build-up later in the year.
  • Lime is the first thing to get right before one should consider building either soil P or K.
  • Use slurry/soiled water to replace some purchased N, P and K; apply in the spring for best value.
  • Match fertiliser nitrogen (N) to stocking rate.
  • Use urea rather than CAN (25% cheaper per kg N) until the end of May – for a potential saving of 0.3 cent/L on your annual fertiliser bill.
  • Spread sulphur (S) (20kg/ha; 16 units/ac) on dry farms from April.

Teagasc advises to identify what you want, shop around for the best value available, avail of discounts/special offers/cash deals where available and of benefit to you, and only buy what you need.