The 2020 Irish Grassland Association Annual Dairy Conference, sponsored by Yara, took place on Wednesday 8th January 2020. Staying in the south west of the country, the Charleville Park Hotel played host to this year’s conference. As usual, an excellent line-up of topics and speakers has been arranged to make this a must-go event on the dairy farming calendar.
At 8pm on the evening before the Dairy Conference (Tuesday 7th January), there was an exclusive opportunity for Irish Grassland Association members to meet at an evening gathering in advance of the Conference. Admission was free to all IGA members and a friend. The 2020 guest speakers were John Kelly Dairy Farmer, Ned English Potato and Cereal Grower and Pat O’Keeffe Pig / Dairy Farmer. They will be interviewed in a panel discussion with the theme: ‘Dairying – future products and markets’. This discussion will be facilitated by Matt Dempsey, former Irish Farmers’ Journal editor and IGA Lifetime Merit Award recipient.
Developing your dairy business
The challenge of milk price pressure and volatility looks set to continue in the spring of 2020. The opening session of the conference aimed to help with planning and decision making in this context from two perspectives.
Firstly, for existing operations, protecting the business bottom line through fully understanding of the real cost-base of the business is essential. Barry Murphy of FDC Group addressed how and why break-even cost levels can vary between farms and help understand how this should be evaluated within the business.
Secondly, opportunities continue to become available for expansion, whether due to: 1) opportunities for grazing platform extensions to neighbouring farms; 2) opportunities for second platforms on existing or new out-farms; or 3) opportunities for involvement in succession of existing dairy units. Patrick Gowing highlighted that while some opportunities may be positive, there are also times when it might be best to say “No”. This paper will help when deciding on “Yes” or “No” when opportunities come along.
Efficiency opportunities with multiple benefits
The second session of the conference looked at options available within best practice to minimise the environmental footprint of dairy farming through efficiency opportunities. Two key pillars that are high on the sustainability agenda are the use of clover in pasture, and the efficiency of dairy cows.
Clover has been tried on many farms over the years, with mixed success. Fergal Coughlan of Teagasc went through the lessons learned from research farms and on-farm studies and highlight the potential of clover and the latest thinking on its establishment, retention and management in swards.
The EBI is a tool to help select and breed increasingly productive, efficient and durable animals. However, in addition to improving these profitability drivers in the herd, the EBI is also delivering herds that are potentially more carbon efficient and sustainable. Donagh Berry from Teagasc discussed how the EBI is achieving these multiple objectives, and how the EBI can be used as a positive message for what dairy farmers are doing to be more climate friendly.
Priorities for 2020
The afternoon session focused on 3 important areas for 2020 in the context of potentially lower milk price, and the increasing pressures on-farm around calf management.
Doreen Corridan discussed the options around optimising cow numbers, focussing on the marginal profitability of the weaker cows in the herd. Managing the overall team performance of the herd becomes more critical as milk price drops, so looking at the contribution of each player on the team becomes more important!
Grass is the cheapest feed, and high output generates revenue. Donal O’Reilly, a farmer from Watergrasshill in Cork, went through how he continues to achieve consistently high milk solids output through grassland management, particularly in the spring period.
Management of calves from the dairy herd is an increasing challenge on many farms. Eamonn Duggan discussed his calf management practices to show how calves can be reared to minimise the labour and cost, while not compromising on welfare and performance.