Where Irish dairying is concerned, I firmly believe that time is now.
Consider the facts. Prices at this week’s GDT event increased by 15% and this was after a run of eight consecutive trading events that saw sustainable increases in returns made across the entire gamut of dairy products.
Factor in the pending resurgence of food service markets as the world comes out of lockdown, and there’s one direction that milk prices are likely to follow over the coming six months – and that’s in a ferociously upwards direction.
Meanwhile, here in Ireland, one million or more dairy cows will calve down during the spring months of 2021.
These animals are primed right now, to produce ferocious amounts of milk. They just need a little bit of encouragement to make this happen.
If I was a dairy farmer in this country today, I would be saying to myself that it might be time to have a chat with my meal merchant with the sole aim of agreeing a compound feeding strategy that will allow me to really boost milk output over the next four to five months.
Such an approach does not fly in the face of Teagasc advice to make best use of grazed grass.
Instead, it is an obvious reality that recognises the value of grass while, at the same time, getting those marginal litres from freshly-calved cows that could really add to bank balances and profit margins come 2021.
Research carried out at University College Dublin (UCD) by Prof. Finbar Mulligan and his team confirms that it is quite feasible to push concentrate feeding levels well north of 1.5t/cow. It’s not case of opting for a high protein nut; most of the protein the cows need is in the grass they are grazing anyway.
Here’s a question: why do we go to all the trouble of increasing the economic breeding index (EBI) values of our dairy herds, but yet we don’t give these cows the opportunity to express all of this genetic potential in full? Answers on a postcard please.
Meanwhile, our friends in the UK and the US think it is the most natural thing in the world to push milk output per cow at those times when markets are really strong.
They do this by upping meal feeding rates, particularly to their freshly-calves cows. These are the animals with the real ability to respond to such a nutritional stimulus.
So why can’t Irish dairy farmers take the same approach, when markets allow?
Of course, all of this presupposes that Ireland’s milk processers hold up to their end of the bargain. Glanbia, Kerry, Dairygold and all the other processers must start to deliver real price increases at the farmgate.
That clock is already ticking.