A survey of NI farmers has highlighted the potential for a shortage of fodder on farms this winter.
Undertaken by AgriSearch and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), the survey attracted responses from over 800 local farmers. It found that 52% have no plans to reduce livestock numbers.
However, almost three quarters of livestock farms intend to spread less fertiliser this year and over half of respondents plan on feeding less concentrates.
The survey also found there is not a significant supply of fodder leftover from last winter. Around one-third of respondents said they had no fodder reserves at all and a similar number said they had less than 10% of their winter fodder requirement leftover from 2021-2022.
Jason Rankin, general manager at AgriSearch, said there is a “mismatch” between the livestock numbers being kept on farms, compared to fertiliser application rates, silage reserves and concentrate feed levels.
He said options used in the past to bridge fodder shortages, such as buying silage from neighbours or feeding extra concentrates, “will either not be available this winter or will be at an exorbitant price”.
“It is vital that all farmers take immediate steps to ensure that they have ample fodder stocks for animals they intend to keep next winter,” Rankin said.
Almost a third of respondents said they will not be able to purchase fertiliser with farm cash reserves or an existing bank overdraft this year.
A short-term loan or overdraft extension will be used by 15% of respondents and 16% will draw on personal or family funds to pay for fertiliser.
At the time the survey was completed in late April/early May, 15% of respondents said they had no fertiliser purchased. Within this total, 26% were beef and sheep farmers, and 5% of dairy farmers.
Over 40% of all livestock farmers questioned said they only had enough fertiliser for first cut, 30% are covered for second cut and 17% have enough for the whole year.
From approximately 100 respondents answering questions on winter and spring crops, there is some suggestion an increased cropping acreage has been planted, but with less fertiliser used. Around 30% said they have grown a greater crop area this year. However, approximately one third have applied up to 20% less fertiliser.
Among dairy farmers who completed the survey, 55% said they intend to produce a similar amount of milk over the next 12 months, while 18% hope to sell more milk, and a similar number intend to cut production by 5-10%.
This is reflected in plans for livestock numbers, with 55% of dairy farmers indicating that they will keep the same amount of cows this year, 8% plan to increase their herd size and 32% will reduce numbers by up to 10%.
Beef and sheep
While counterparts in dairy might intend holding numbers, it is a different picture in beef and sheep, with only 37% of respondents stating they intend to keep similar numbers this year. The survey found 35% plan to cut livestock numbers by less than 10% whilst 24% intend to reduce numbers by more than 10%.
Livestock farmers were also asked how they will increase fodder production in 2022. The survey found that 40% intend to make use of soil tests, 29% want to improve grassland management, and 18% hope to extend their grazing season.
Among around 100 respondents who answered questions about winter and spring crops, there is some suggestion of more being planted, but also less fertiliser being used. Around 30% are growing a greater crop area this year. Across all growers, approximately one third have applied up to 20% less fertiliser.