A sharp drop in grass growth rates and grass utilisation during 2023 cost the average 60ha dairy farm over €12,000, Teagasc has estimated.

Grass growth rates fell by around 1t/ha last year, which led to an overall drop in grass utilisation of around 0.75t/ha, Teagasc’s head of dairy knowledge transfer Joe Patton told the Irish Farmers Journal.

Across a 60ha holding, the drop in grass utilisation equates to around 45t of dry matter. With the dry matter cost of bought-in silage now north of €280/t in many cases, Patton put the cost of replacing this fodder at around €12,600.

This slide in grass utilisation will have to be reversed in 2024 if the massive contraction in dairy farmer margins recorded last year is to be addressed, Patton warned.

Average dairy farm incomes fell by around 60% to €59,000 in 2023, compared to 2022. Dairy units were generally growing around 13t/ha of grass in 2020-2022, but this figure fell to under 12t/ha in 2023, according to data from Teagasc’s PastureBase service.

Last year’s poor weather conditions contributed somewhat to the reduction in grass growth levels, but there was also a tendency on the part of farmers to hold off on fertiliser in favour of feeding more concentrates, Patton maintained.

“The cost of having a deficit in the feed budget has exploded the current high-cost environment,” he said.

“Farmers have to be weaned off a creeping dependence on purchased meal and forage and get back to the clear focus on driving grass output,” Patton said.

He urged farmers to make sure every kilogramme of fertiliser counted this year, and that a programme to maximise clover usage was taken on board by as many farmers as possible.