The National Food and Fodder Security Committee (NFFSC) is urging farmers to prioritise winter forage production. Germinal's Technical Director Dr Mary McEvoy explains why current low forage stocks are risking a potential shortfall later in the year and how it can be prevented to support sustainable food production.
Cold and wet conditions in March due to the wet conditions in March and early April have impacted grass growth this year, with rates about 25% below average.
Grazing also took a hit in March due to the wet conditions, with many farmers having to supplement stock, resulting in very low silage reserves on farms across the country.
If we face another dry summer, forage levels could be critical on some farms unless farmers act now.
Farmers need to improve soil fertility
Figures presented by Teagasc on grass and forage supplies at the NFFSC Fertiliser Sub-group's meeting this month highlighted a decline in overall soil fertility, falling to 18.5% in 2022. This means more than 80% of land is compromised in terms of performance and forage-growing potential.
Nitrogen applications also fell in 2022, decreasing by 14%, due mainly to spiralling fertiliser costs and lack of availability. Phosphate (P) applications were also down by 24% and potassium (K) fell by 26%.
"This year's wet conditions in March meant some farmers also missed the chance to apply fertiliser this spring, further impacting future production," explains Mary.
"But the report says there is scope to drive production by improving soil fertility through the use of lime and further P and K applications to increase N efficiency."
How to manage grass covers effectively
"Grass is growing well now," says Mary. "With high average farm covers, think about closing some areas for an early silage cut rather than letting grass get away from you, sacrificing quality.
"Monitor grass growth throughout the season, use all you can and adjust your actions accordingly. For example, think about a fertiliser application to boost grass growth later in the season if necessary.
"Arable silage is another good option this year. It can be undersown with grass/clover swards to provide winter feed while establishing a new sward.
"Plan ahead and identify possible gaps in your winter forage provision and look to use forage crops such as rape or stubble turnips to plug them. With sowing dates up to the first week in September and their suitability in dry soils, they could be a solution for you."
Winter forage advice