The dust has now settled on the Dairy Open Day 2021 at Moorepark in Co. Cork, and now is a good time to reflect on what we learned.
Teagasc did not reveal any groundbreaking new research that is going to solve all the issues facing the Irish dairy sector.
Instead, it was very much about ‘back to the basics’ and getting the simple things right.
We learnt that Irish dairy farmers have one of the lowest carbon footprints: The Irish dairy sector carbon footprint is at 0.99kg C02/kg FPCM (kg of carbon dioxide equivalents/kg of fat and protein corrected milk).
If you are involved in the Irish dairy sector and have not heard ‘clover’ mentioned, you have done very well.
Clover was once again one of the main topics of discussion at the dairy open day, with the environmental, production and economic benefits of it highlighted once more.
On more than one occasion at the event, it was noted how clover can reduce the need for chemical nitrogen (N), particularly from June onwards.
It was also noted that once managed correctly, this reduced N application had very little impact on growth rates of these swards.
One of the demonstrations attendees would have seen at Moorepark was the clover growth trails – Teagasc advisors showed the growth rates from two clover swards.
Each plot was divided into a high-N and low-N plot. The high-N areas received 20 units of N/ac, with the low-N areas receiving 10 units of N/ac from June onwards per round.
The trail clearly shows that less chemical N is required to grow the same amount of grass in a clover sward.
It also shows that the extra fertiliser used was wasted as no extra grass is grown in the high N plots.
Irish dairy farms have seen an improvement in profitability post quota from €773/ha to €1,429/ha.
The utilisation of pasture is going to be key in improving farm profitability and reaching Teagasc’s target of €2,452.
Speaking at the event, Dr. John Patton stated that: “60% of the improved margin has come from technical improvements and not just numbers.
“Getting better has been more important than getting bigger, and that is likely to continue into the future.”
The increased use of sexed semen within the national herd will see a dramatic change to the calf crop from the national herd.
Instead of beef calves accounting for 46% of births of the dairy herd, they may account for as high as 70%.
This would replace the majority of male dairy calves, with higher value beef-sired calves.
We have relied on exports to reduce calf numbers in the country, with the majority of exported calves being male dairy calves.
The increased use of sexed semen is great, but what will happen to all these extra calves? Who is going to buy these calves?
Will sexed semen solve the calf issue or just change the breed from dairy to beef?
In summary, using clover in swards is going to become more important on dairy farms.
Chemical N is expensive and with Yara announcing a 40% reduction in European production, you would expect that it may increase further.
Dairy farming is quite profitable, with further increases in profitability possible through further technical improvements and pasture utilisation.
Sexed semen usage is also expected to increase, with Sexing Technologies opening their lab in Moorepark.
This will have a major impact on the calf crop from the dairy herd as 70% of the calves will now be beef-sired calves.