With less than 10% of first-cut silage done so far this year, the chief executive of the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) is calling for calm amid a ‘frenzy’ among farmers to catch up and get their crops harvested.

Michael Moroney is seeking support from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Teagasc, and the farm organisations in the FCI’s call to quell the pressure being exerted on silage contractors.

The FCI estimates that less than 10% of the first-cut grass silage crop has been cut so far in May, compared with 90% of the work being completed by the same period in 2020.

Now, there is a significant backlog of work to be completed and this has created an urgency on many farms that has not been witnessed in the past, according to Michael.

Silage contractors harrassed

“During the past week, the association has received many calls from many contractors who said they are being harassed by incessant telephone calls and messages in an effort to do the impossible,” said Michael.

This ‘impossible’ relates to the harvesting of grass in conditions that are “unsuitable, unsafe and, ultimately, will lead to poor quality animal feed for the housing period of winter 2021”, said Michael.

“Irish farm contractors are well equipped with modern, high-output and efficient machinery and have the skills to complete the grass silage harvest when weather conditions permit,” he said.

Frenzy to cut silage

“The current frenzy to get first-cut grass silage harvested, driven by weather-induced delays to the harvesting that are evident on many farms, is unprecedented, by our FCI members,” said Michael.

For silage contractors – pit silage and baling operations – this year’s weather challenges are further compounding to create additional significant costs.

“FCI members have identified significant weather-related harvesting cost increases. These have come at a time when agricultural diesel prices have risen by more than 50% compared with 2020,” said Michael.

He said the FCI has requested assistance from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Teagasc and the farm organisations – through their officers, advisers and representatives – to communicate to farmers the need to lay off the pressure.

Cost implications

Wet grass harvesting will increase the weight being harvested and, in turn, the cost as Michael explained:

“Our analysis from silage contractor members, using the latest performance and economy measurement technology that is widely used in our sector, has already shown that wet grass harvesting will increase the volume of grass to be harvested as measured in tonnes per hectare or trailer loads per hectare.

“One early example of this is the measured fuel usage on a 25ha (60 acre) area was 2,400 litres last week, a 40% increase in fuel usage over the same area in 2020,” said Michael.

Safety implications

A key safety concern for FCI relates to silage pit height, particularly when dealing with wetter and heavier grass.

The FCI is calling for the agriculture minister to support its call to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to enforce a sensible restriction on silage pit heights

“This will be a particular risk this year as heavy and wet grass is more difficult to manage, prone to pit slippage, posing additional dangers to those operating loaders on silage pits,” said Michael.

“We are also very conscious that the challenges of a late first-cut grass silage harvest brought on by unrealistic demands from farmer clients, will mean that many contractor teams will be working long hours per day, in the coming weeks.

“Like all employment sectors, our employees are required to adhere to the Working Time Act regulations.

Michael sais despite these challenges, their motto is ‘yes we can’.

“That can only be achieved with the cooperation, support and respect of our thousands of farmer clients,” he concluded.