The Fodder Incentive Measure of 2018 was a huge success. It helped to fill a fodder deficit and encourage co-operation between farmers and integration between different farm types, something that should be encouraged.
It helped to ease some of the strain on farms when fodder was low. This season, it may also help to reduce concentrate needs when concentrate ingredients may be hard to get and will be expensive.
However, one thing is clear. If a scheme like this is to run, then the details must be announced sooner rather than later.
Looking at current trends and recent polls, it is clear that there is not enough fodder on farms, so a scheme like this makes sense.
It is a significant cost to the tillage farmer, but many tillage farmers already plant cover crops and may just need a little push to plant a greater area knowing that this can also benefit their soil and recycle nutrients. It is a good option if the tillage farmer has animals themselves.
What did the 2018 scheme look like?
The Fodder Incentive Measure of 2018 had a budget of €2.75m and saw approximately 20,000ha of crops planted under the scheme.
The measure incentivised tillage farmers to grow fodder crops like brassicas and fast-growing grasses to feed their own animals and to supply local livestock farmers with fodder by grazing or harvesting the crops.
When planted early, these crops have huge potential to supply high yields. If a similar scheme is to run this year, details would need to be clear before the winter barley harvest to get into fields at the earliest possible chance.
Early notice of the scheme would also give time for the seed to be sourced and interest to be gauged for the measure. However, early notice would need to be in the coming days.
What were the details of the Fodder Incentive Measure in 2018?
What needs to change?
If a scheme were to be put in place, payment rates would need to increase significantly to account for current diesel, machinery running, seed, fertiliser and other costs.
Farmers should be encouraged to plant these crops as early as possible and not be curtailed by a planting date.
The inclusion of fast-growing grasses has caused some problems on farms. While it was made clear that these grasses needed to be managed very carefully on farms if planted, there are now situations on some farms across the country where seed has taken hold and these grasses are causing problems.
Therefore, serious consideration will be needed before they are added to the seed list if a scheme is implemented this season.
While people will have the best intentions to graze or harvest before they go to seed the weather may decide otherwise and plants can end up going to seed.
Westerwold seed can cause a problem for the next 20 years on farms if allowed to go to seed.
Aside from these crops providing fodder to fill a deficit amid high costs, it is important not to forget the value of these crops in protecting our environment and taking in carbon from the atmosphere.
These crops will take up nutrients left behind after tillage crops, reducing the risk of loss of nutrients to water.
They will also help to improve soil structure and health, making soil easier to work and helping to grow more resilient plants. Very importantly, these crops can take in carbon from the atmosphere, some of which will be sequestered in the soil after grazing as the animals will defecate where they are grazing. However, it is important to protect the soil under these crops by grazing light animals in good conditions, avoiding poaching and where necessary leaving a buffer strip along watercourses.
Through its Enable Conservation Tillage project Teagasc has been warning farmers of Italian ryegrass problems at farm walks in recent weeks.
Teagasc has been carrying out testing on grass weeds, showing that 43% of the Italian ryegrass populations tested were resistant to the main chemistry available to control the grass. It is extremely difficult to control this grass and Teagasc is encouraging farmers to send in grass to be tested. Some of these infestation occurred where plants had been sown in 2018.
Careful consideration is needed on the inclusion of these crops if a new scheme is to be launched.
Area of catch crops at present
Approximately 40,000ha of catch crops are estimated to be planted each year under the Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme.
These crops can be grazed from 1 December.
It is estimated that a further 20,000ha of catch crops are planted on tillage land across the country.
While some of these are grazed, many are left in place until it is time to plant in the spring, so that a cover is left on the soil and there is a growing plant in the ground for as long as possible.
Many of these may be planted with species not suited to grazing, while others are left in-situ and farmers direct-drill crops into the cover crop to keep a living plant in the ground all of the time.
Some of these farmers might like the opportunity to incorporate grazing animals into their system.
New nitrates rules
With new nitrates rules in place this season, farmers have to cultivate stubble within seven days of harvest or baling. This is a very tight timeframe for farmers as they keep up with the work of harvest and now have another time-sensitive job to add to their list.
As many farmers may not have the equipment to direct-drill crops, these rules could mean farmers simply shallow cultivate and do not add a catch crop to the mix due to time pressure.
Remember, cultivation, planting and rolling will need to be carried out on some farms, while others may be able to do it all in the one-pass of a machine.