There is an old saying that when farmers are short of food, they feed the cows properly. This has never been more true.

Last autumn, I desisted from buying in maize silage, gambling on the usual early turnout.

Unfortunately, turnout was delayed and the paddocks had only two-thirds of the grass necessary.

So we spent a month buffer-feeding with bought-in maize silage and grass silage and also a mix of 70% wheat and 30% nutritionally improved straw.

This combined ration has pushed the cows to giddy heights way beyond anything we’ve experienced before.

The top cow is doing nearly 60 litres and one third of the herd is producing butterfat ranging from 5% to 7%.

Ship has sailed

While I can take the credit for the high yields, I have to admit the other end of the table is responsible for the high milk quality through her breeding selection over the last 40 years.

Unfortunately, these high yields mean we are moving away from a grass-based system to somewhere where I don’t want to be, but I imagine it’s too late to turn the ship around, although we now have grass in the paddocks.

My adviser tells me that high-yielding herds’ cost of production is an average of 29p/l and the best grass-based systems costs are 19p/litre.

I know where I’d rather be, particularly as the controls on agriculture are going to become much more punitive.

Role of politics

All indications are that future government policy is going to drive up the cost of food production by moving payments from straight food production into conservation areas.

Never in living memory has politics played such an important role in the farming way of life.

Carbon sequestration, methane emissions, nitrogen controls, etc, are the buzz words of the consumer and politicians love buzz words.

They guarantee them a sound bite and sound bites are the most desirable things for a resident or aspiring MP.


Politicians can promise the public action by cutting the farming budget and moving it into conservation payments, sequestering money into creating departments, jobs, pensions, offices and the like to advise and control agriculture.

The intention being to improve the planet, but this could export the problem by sourcing food supplies from around the world from countries which have not yet developed a carbon conscience.

The controls on agriculture will mean homegrown food will become more expensive, making foreign food more attractive.

The drive to control farming has been consolidated by the recent results.

The election results in Scotland have produced a Scottish National Party (SNP) that will consolidate its power with support from the Greens to the detriment of farming.

In Wales, the Tories election promise to rescind the NVZ did nothing towards gaining them power and I am sure you yourselves can interpret and forecast the direction of policy within your own shores.

From what I perceive, over 30 years of visiting Ireland, your government is no longer so sympathetic to rural issues as it once was.

Over here, the decline in the number of milk producers continues.

Up until now, it has been driven by the inability to source suitable labour to milk cows, but now we are moving into a zone of low milk prices paid by some processors whose businesses have a poor financial performance and know full well their suppliers have nowhere else to go and will continue to pay a low price because they can.