Max, Niall and Heidi McGauran in Ballyhaise for The College Open Day.

The delicate balance of profit and environment

How to increase profits while decreasing environmental impact was the challenge at the heart of last week's Dairy Open Day at Teagasc Agricultural College in Ballyhaise.

The well attended event drilled into discussions on how to grow and efficiently utilise large quantities of high quality pasture, when appropriate grazing management practices for this region are adopted.

“Extended grazing supports high levels of milk production and reduced requirements for concentrate and silage supplementation when compared to the average grazing season length in this region,” said Teagasc Dairy Researcher, Brendan Horan. “The challenge ahead is to further improve farm performance and profitability while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of dairy systems.”

Developing profitable grazing systems suitable for the region has been the focus of the Dairy Research programme in Ballyhaise for the past 17 years.

Results from a range of studies carried out at the Ballyhaise site demonstrate that considerable potential exists to further increase animal productivity from pasture in the Border, Midlands and Western (BMW) region by increasing sward productivity in combination with an appropriate stocking rate and a compact calving high EBI dairy herd. The Ballyhaise College dairy herd has made substantial improvements in productivity in the last decade. These productivity gains have arisen through increased grass utilisation, increased milk value and reduced production costs. To further build upon these productivity gains into the future and ensure that the overall business remains resilient requires a continued focus on increasing grass utilisation, further increasing herd EBI and minimising fertiliser use via the inclusion and management of clover within the dairy pastures. This, they say, will continue to be the focus of the research programme at Ballyhaise.

Managing cost inflation on dairy farms in 2022/2023

If the conundrum of balancing profit against environment wasn't tricky enough, farmers are facing unprecedented price increases for many inputs this year. Figures presented at the Ballyhaise Open Day show that excluding own labour, capital repayments, drawings and tax, the average cost of keeping a cow in 2021 was €1,478 for farms completing Profit Monitor in the Border, Midlands and Western region. Input costs are projected to increase by an average of 40% on these farms in 2022 bringing the total cost of keeping a cow to €2,069 in the BMW region. Feed and fertiliser costs are projected to increase by 56% and 127%, respectively.

Figures were also presented for dairy farms in Northern Ireland and these showed that there is a large range in financial margin on dairy farms in Northern Ireland for a given level of milk output per cow. However, farms with better feed efficiency tend to return higher margins. This trend is expected to continue in 2022.

“Farming sustainably has increased in focus on our programmes and, as a Teagasc Signpost farm, we utilise the college natural resources with all students to deliver a specific module on Sustainable Farming in the Environment,” explained college principal, John Kelly. “The farm including its soils, biodiversity and watercourses are a critical resource that we can further utilise to impart knowledge to all those attending.”