24 Apr, 2018

Grass - The key competitive advantage in Irish farming

Irish farmers have access to a valuable natural asset, one that is recognised as a key to our high-quality produce around the world - GRASS

Irish farmers have access to a valuable natural asset, one that is recognised as a key to our high-quality produce around the world - GRASS. Grazed grass is, and will continue to be, one of the cheapest sources of feed for animals in Ireland. Grass gives Ireland a natural advantage over its competitors across Europe as the trend in Europe is to produce milk and beef from high input systems based on a very high percentage of concentrates – dairy on 365 indoor systems and beef from feedlots. Ireland focuses the majority of its production from grass based systems. It allows Ireland to run sustainable dairy, beef and sheep systems which allow bovines and flocks to be in their natural outdoor environment for up to 300 days a year.

In simple terms, grass costs circa €75 per tonne DM, pit silage circa €160 per tonne DM and concentrate approximately €250 per tonne. It is, therefore, easy to see why Teagasc state that by increasing the proportion of the diet of grazed grass by an extra 10%, the cost of production per litre of milk decreases by 2.5 cents. In low price milk years, like we are facing into in 2018, this makes a huge difference in the profitability on the farm. Furthermore, Teagasc analysis estimates that for every 1 tonne increase in dry matter utilised per hectare, that profit increases by €181 per hectare.

In the beef sector, on a well-managed grass system, it is possible to achieve 80% of the live weight gain from grass. On a traditional, low margin sector, getting as much live weight gain from grass is often the difference between profit and loss in beef.

There are two key areas in grass land management – grass growth/quality and grass utilisation. The amount of grass used per hectare varies widely across the nation, from farmers using 5 tonnes DM per hectare to farmers using up to 12 tonnes DM per hectare. Teagasc recently launched the Grass 10 program to try and increase the grass growth and utilisation in Ireland, therefore helping farmers realise the full potential of grazed grass on their farm irrespective of production system or land type. Increasing the amount of grass in the diet of grazing animals can also have a positive impact on the environment through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Below are two links to how to grow and manage grass. The first is a joint user guide to grassland management by Teagasc/Farmers Journal. The second is a scientific document published by Laurence Shalloo.