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Guide 20
Matt O'Kee e
Irish Farmers Monthly
Where there's grass, there's money
Teagasc's decision to set a four-year target to increase grass production and utilisation within our livestock sector to 10
tonnes per hectare (ha) is not complex
The figures speak for themselves: grow more grass and turn
it into money. An extra tonne of grass utilised is worth 180
per hectare (ha) to a dairy farmer and upwards of 100 per ha
for dry-stock farmers. For a beef farmer running a 40ha farm,
that's worth 4,000 per annum. The average figure for grass
grown and utilised on dry stock farms is 7.5 tonnes/ha.
By increasing that figure to 10 tonnes, as Teagasc is targeting,
the total worth to that farm should be 10,000. That is a quite
incredible figure. There is so much e ort and lobbying put into
securing various subsidies and yet, within the farm gate, there
is an annual payment, or repayment, available of 10,000 for
growing and using more grass.
Now, let's spread that money across the entire grassland
sector. The country has up to four million ha, or 10 million
acres, of grassland. The vast amount of it can grow more
grass than it does now with improved management and
infrastructure. A one tonne increase, on average, in grass
availability every year would be worth an extra 400m!
Now, bring the figure up to the Teagasc target of 10 tonnes
average grass utilisation per ha. The figure comes to an extra
1bn per year!
This is not pie in the sky. The figures are an accurate
assessment of the financial potential of Irish grassland. Not
only that, but the figures used are only extrapolated from
the increased return from dry stock. In reality, that 1bn per
annum would be significantly higher if it were to take the
extra potential return from dairy farming into account. Given
that a large part of our grassland acreage is devoted to
dairying, the figure increases to well above 1bn per annum,
given that the returns to dairy farms from an average one
tonne increase in grass utilised is almost double that of dry
stock farming at 180 per hectare.
Matching supply and demand
Goldmines are usually found beneath the ground. In this case,
the green gold is growing on top, waiting to be harvested. The
Teagasc target is to be achieved by 2020. It coincides with
an anticipated period of growth in output, both from dairy and
cattle production, so it could, if successful, allow those increases
to be achieved without recourse to the purchase of extra
bought-in feed. There will be extra demand for all of this extra
grass, supposing that it is produced. This is the great unknown.
What exactly can Teagasc do that they have not been doing
before to encourage farmers to grow more grass? Some of
the extra grass will come about almost automatically because
of higher stocking rates on some farms, most notably dairy
farms that are scaling up after quotas.
However, there has been an undeniable lack of success in
persuading a large swathe of grassland farmers to up their
game in terms of increasing output through increased grass
production. Teagasc has a range of initiatives planned to
deliver its ambitious target. It remains to be seen whether it
can succeed. It is good to see that it has the courage to set
out such unambiguous and definite targets in terms of both
tonnage and timeline.