Dairy farmers must push to secure returns that are above the base price levels on-offer from their co-ops, according to Ballyhaise College-based Teagasc dairy advisor Martina Moran.

Speaking at the Virginia Show Dairy Seminar she said that most Irish milk producers farming 40ha had the scope to increase cows numbers by 25 head while, at the same time, improving milk returns by up to 3.8c/L.

“Improved farmgate returns can be obtained on the back of enhanced milk protein and butterfat levels.

“Work carried out as part of the current Teagasc: Lakeland Dairies joint development programme has shown that a combination of better quality milk and heavier stocking rates will lift net margins from the current average level of €507/ha up to €1295/ha.”

Moran confirmed that extending the grazing season by one month during the spring period will significantly improve efficiency levels on many dairy farmers.

“It is possible to provide dairy cows with meaningful grazing opportunities during the months of February,” she said.

“But this is dependent on putting the correct grass budgeting measures place during the previous autumn period.”

The Teagasc advisor said that getting soil fertility right should underpin all of the grassland management decisions taken on every dairy farm.

“Fertiliser programmes should be based on soils test results only. Too many farmers are spreading straight nitrogen when, in fact, they should be using a compound.

“The potential exists for Irish dairy farmers to grow 14t of grass per ha on a dry matter basis. However, on significant numbers of farms the actual level of output achieved is in the region of 9t/ha.”

Moran said that a significant number of improved efficiency measures can be successfully implemented on dairy farms within months.

“Where breeding is concerned, the time line will extend out to three years. But a commitment to improved efficiency and business expansion can be looked upon as projects that can be tackled within the same time line.

“They are not mutually exclusive objectives.”