Surplus cash on dairy farms should be ‘invested in something that makes life easier’

If there is a surplus of cash on dairy farms, the advice is to “invest it in something that makes life easier”.

Such is the wisdom being shared on day two of the AXA National Dairy Show, which kicked off on Saturday morning at the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet, Co Cork.

Attendees can expect to see a hive of activity with handler classes taking place at the show ring and winners to be announced, over 150 stands at the trade exhibition, and more.

In addition, Saturday’s program includes a range of panel discussions on hot topics for the sector including seasonal management and animal health, women in dairy, and carbon and emissions on farms.

Teagasc head of dairy knowledge transfer Joe Patton sat on a panel this morning discussing the changes to the nitrates rules and derogations.

Under the nitrates regulations, farmers can farm at a stocking rate of up to 170kg organic manure nitrogen per hectare, while the derogation allows them to farm at a higher stocking rate of 250kg per hectare.

The derogation runs to the end of 2025, and a review of water quality data is due to take place in 2023.

Depending on the outcome of this review, the maximum stocking rate for derogation farms in certain areas may be reduced to 220kg from 2024.

A ‘tricky’ topic

Mr Patton said this is a “tricky topic” for a number of reasons, but the potential change from 250kg to 220kg of nitrogen is one that is certainly “worrying people”, along with other changes to nitrates rules around soiled water storage and exporting slurry .

“It creates a challenge for some in terms of the number of cows they can carry,” Mr Patton said.

“People need to plan for that and have a good plan, it’s a farm-by-farm calculation that needs to be done.”

Some farmers will “certainly need to adjust their system” to comply with the forthcoming nitrates rules.

“Should they be worried? No, they shouldn’t be worried, but they should be informed,” he said.

Kitchen table discussion

Mr Patton acknowledged the National Dairy Show as being an “important platform” to discuss topics such as these.

“It’s an enjoyable show, people are relaxed, it’s a Saturday; we don’t want to be beating people over the head with prophets of doom,” he said.

“But it’s because people are relaxed that we can have a conversation about it in a more relaxed way, which is what it’s going to take. This is a kitchen table discussion.

“Any time you get to meet farmers and have a genuine and honest conversation with them, that’s a good day’s work.”

It’s been a very good year from a milk price point of view, Mr Patton added, but “obviously the costs have increased as well – but margins look like they’re going to be quite good”.

“We would say to farmers to be careful, to have a good plan,” he said.

“If there is a surplus of cash on farms, invest it in something that makes life easier and will make you maybe more compliant from a nitrates point of view for the future.

“If there’s cash there to be invested, focus on making life easier by investing it in something sensible.”


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