So much for the prospect of an early spring

The anticipation of an early spring has totally receded in most parts of the country, leaving many farmers with the prospect of not getting stock out until the middle of April – or even beyond that.

Meanwhile, silage stocks continue to erode.

It’s a cruel irony that, in a year when many producers would have truly valued the chance to have opened their shed gates in the month of March, such an opportunity was denied them.

The dilemma facing livestock farmers over the past 12 months has not been that of having insufficient grass but rather getting the forage, which was in their fields, harvested.

I am fully aware of Teagasc’s commitment to getting as much production from grazed grass as possible.

But, for farmers in many parts of the country, surely the core challenge has become that of getting their silos filled as early in the year as possible.

A seven-month winter is now a pretty standard reality in many parts of Ireland. And, in some parts of the country, we could be talking eight months.

Given this backdrop, something strategic must be done to give these farmers the skill set they need to develop a sustainable future. These same people probably work some of the most inherently fertile farms in the country.

But when weather conditions go against them, as was the case last year, they are left powerless to get out and make best use of the land resource that is available to them.

And 2017 was not a one-off. We have had real problems caused by extreme weather events cropping up on a regular basis over the past three decades. On each occasion the Government had no option but to come forward with various emergency aid schemes. And all of that came a real cost to the public purse.

In my eyes, homemade silage is the only fodder source that makes the difference between livestock getting through a long winter and the opposite being the case.

And it’s all about quality. There have been enough trials carried out in Ireland to confirm the difference in value between a high dry matter silage with a decent Metabolisable Energy (ME) value, made in a clamp/pit, and forage coming out of a bale that was made as an afterthought during the month of September or October.

No matter how bad the weather gets during the spring and summer months, there will always be a chance to get some silage made at some stage. The challenge moving forward is to ensure that as many farmers as possible can grab these opportunities when they present themselves.