The Teagasc/GIIL monitor farms in 2013 underlined the importance of fertility both in terms of the cows and the soil.

Agriland spoke to the programme co-ordinator Richard O’Brien recently. He noted: “The longer the cow is milking during the grass growing season the better.”

O’Brien outlined that costs of production have risen on the monitor farms in 2013. He said: “Costs are driven mainly by fertiliser and feed. Most of the farms were putting serious effort into building P and K.”

He added: “The fertiliser costs were anticipated at the start of the programme. All the farms were soil sampled only eight per cent of the samples came back in optimal indexes. This means 92 per cent of samples had issues. The decision was made on all farms to improve this.”

He highlighted that in terms of N,P and K all three need to be working with each other to get growing grass to its optimum.

Feed costs were up, according to O’Brien: “Due to the Fodder Crisis and the terrible weather in general last spring. Drought also had an impact last summer.”

“Weather does play a key role. On of the wetter farms on the programme there was a better performance. One farmer grew 50 per cent more grass last year, in a dry year.”

On average the monitor farms were growing 10.8t/ha last year. For O’Brien: “The target for us is to produce 13t/ha for a cow milking 400kg milk solids and eating a ½ tonne of meal.

“The farms are still a long way of in terms of P, K and lime but are making progress. Farms won’t grow the same amount of grass every year, in the good years farmers have to make a reserve of silage for the bad years.”

O’Brien stressed: “Fertility is the biggest driver of profit on the farms and has improved dramatically on the monitor farms. Calving interval has improved by 20 days on average.”

“This is down to basic management,” he noted.

The average EBI of the monitor farms is €122, with a yearly EBI gain of €7. O’Brien said: “The average EBI of the 2013 calves is €169 and the 2014 calves should be €190.”

Key to the improvement has been the introduction of more heifers and high culling rates. O’Brien noted: “They are quite young herds with 50 per cent of cows in first and second lactation.”

O’Brien cited: “The milk price remains very important. Overall on the monitor farms net profit(c/l) increased from 14.05 to 16.74. A 20 per cent increase compared to 2012.”

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