Support forest producer groups to boost bioenergy sector – IFA
Farmers with forestry offer the greatest potential to fuel the emerging bioenergy industry showcased at this Tuesday's Energy in Agriculture event, writes IFA forestry executive Geraldine O'Sullivan.

Approximately 40% of the total forest area in Ireland is owned and managed by farmers, with the majority of plantations reaching production in the coming decade.

Forecasts show that timber production is to grow from 3.1 million m3 in 2017 to 7.9 million m3 by 2035, with almost all of the increased volume coming from farmers.

The mobilisation of this resource is not without significant challenges. Many factors influence a farmer’s decision to harvest these, including the size of the forest, the level of bureaucracy, lack of knowledge, investment in infrastructure, available harvesting technologies, transportation, etc.

The IFA’s five-point plan to revitalise the farm forestry sector emphasised the importance of producer organisations to overcome some of the barriers to mobilisation.

The peer-to-peer support offered by producer organisations has proven to be hugely successful in mobilising private sector resource elsewhere in Europe.

Budget support

The IFA’s budget 2019 submission is looking for the introduction of supports for existing forest producer groups to help them create the necessary scale to optimise efficiencies in the supply chain and ensure the long-term sustainability of the group and supply.

Properly functioning forest producer organisations are the key to improving efficiency and building further capacity within the sector to satisfy the growing demand for biomass and ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector.

The IFA advocates a network of centralised biomass trading centre, regional service stations that supply top-quality wood fuels

If bioenergy generation is to become widespread, then biomass must be readily available and cost-competitive.

Currently in Ireland, the biomass market is informal and often supply and demand do not easily match.

To ensure an uninterrupted supply, as well as greater control in fuel quality, the IFA advocates a network of centralised biomass trading centre regional service stations that supply top-quality wood fuels, operated by forest producer organisations.

A centralised system would enable improved control of the procurement process.

Biomass could be stored at the centre and processed during the winter season when the demand for fuel is high and working conditions at the forest may be more difficult.

Supporting the establishment of the network of biomass trade and logistic centres offers farmers and rural communities significant new business opportunities to not just supply biomass, but to become heat contractors.

Read more

Turning trees into cash

Bright future for on-farm renewables

Dairy bull calf trials begin
Research on dairy-bred male calves is gaining momentum with the establishment of a number of new research trials, writes Jack Kennedy.

Teagasc has commenced a pilot project with Dawn Meats to evaluate the opportunities and value of bull calves from the dairy herd.

Teagasc and Dawn Meats will buy, rear and finish dairy beef calves. The bull calves will be pure Holstein and Jersey-cross Holstein calves.

All purchasing and rearing costs will be recorded, and all output such as carcase yield measured.

The steers will be slaughtered at between 20 and 24 months of age.

Calf genotype project

In another development, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) and Dairy Industry Ireland (DII) are partnering with the Department of Agriculture, Teagasc and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) to establish a calf genotype pilot project.

The aim is to work with herds that already have dairy cows genotyped and get their male calves born this spring genotyped.


One of the objectives is to build a database and industry infrastructure to collect calf genotype results.

In the future, the industry may move to collecting genotype results at birth on all calves to establish the genetic potential and parentage of calves.

This current trial will establish the logistics and turnaround time for genotype results.

Results from previous trials put the turnaround time at 18 days. A number of rearing farms have also been established to rear calves as part of this project.

Meanwhile, another Teagasc study of sexed semen is to go ahead this spring.

A 2018 study found that timing of insemination is critical to conception success with sexed semen.

The 2019 study will use timed sexed semen on synchronised cows to find the most successful method.

Read more

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Pig prices: what next after a dismal year?
After a a perfect storm of factors hit the pig price in 2018, Robert Malone looks at what happened and what the future holds for the market.

The story of Irish pig prices in 2018 started in late 2017 when the price dropped dramatically from over €1.60c/kg to a low price of €1.40c/kg by the end of January 2018.

This price slump was caused by an overproduction of pigmeat globally, with increased production from the US, the EU, Russia, and the largest importer of pigmeat in the world, China also increased its domestic production.

With reduced import demand from the likes of China, demand for pigmeat fell off and prices followed. Increased pigmeat production was brought about by both an increase in sow numbers globally in 2018, but increased efficiency and kilos of pigmeat produced per sow have been a contributing feature of pig farming in recent times.

Perfect storm for pig farmers

Combined with this drop in Irish pig prices to an average price in 2018 of just €1.41c/kg, feed prices increased steadily over the year.

In January 2018, a composite feed price, incorporating all pig feeds, lactating sow feed, dry sow, creep, link and fattener feed, was in the region of €290/t.

This price has increased steadily to leave the feed cost at over €320/t today.

When expressed as a cost per kilo of pigmeat produced, the cost of overall feed has increased from €1.05c/kg to in excess of €1.17c/kg with today’s feed prices.

This increase was brought about by a rise in the commodity ingredient prices of grains globally, but also through the increased demand from the ruminant sectors due to the very late wet spring, and then drought conditions that Ireland suffered from in 2018.

Margin over feed

The cost of feed, the main variable cost of production in the pig sector, and the factory price received, give the margin over feed figure.

Teagasc states that when all costs are accounted for, a margin-over-feed figure of 50c/kg is required in order to sustain a long-term profitable pig sector in Ireland.

Margin over feed was recorded as 33c/kg for 2018 by Teagasc.

This is a loss of 17c/kg on every kilo of pigmeat produced, or in more stark terms, a loss of €14.50 per pig sold.

This is clearly unsustainable going forward.

After months of losses, the financial crisis the pig sector is enduring has claimed some casualties with a number of pig units ceasing production and more pig farms on the market as going concerns.

While the pig sector is well used to price volatility, the margin over feed in 2018, that is down as low as 20c/kg today, is the worst yearly figure in over 20 years.

The market will undoubtedly turn, pig prices will rise, feed markets will stabilise, but pig farmers have to question the long-term sustainability of a sector that is highly efficient in terms of overall productivity and carbon emissions, that is not supported directly by the EU CAP budget.

African swine fever

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious viral disease that results in high levels of mortality in pigs and herds.

It has the potential to completely ruin an affected region’s pig industry.

Reported incidents of ASF were first notified in late 2016 in eastern Europe, and into 2017 with Moldova, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania affected.

It’s difficult to find any positivity in what has been a disastrous year

Reports of outbreaks emerged from China in August 2018 and many more confirmed and unconfirmed reports of the severity of the pandemic have hit the headlines.

Another European outbreak, this time in Belgium, has heightened all EU member states’ concerns and biosecurity measures have been increased to prevent the disease spreading throughout mainland Europe.

It’s difficult to find any positivity in what has been a disastrous year, but figures released by Bord Bia show that Irish pigmeat exports for 2018 were up 6% in volume on 2017 figures.

There has been major growth in Japan, Philippines, Australia and South Korea.

Bord Bia announced that a two-year €4m promotion campaign will be launched this year to promote both Irish beef and pigmeat to southeast Asian markets.

China’s ASF outbreaks will reduce domestic production in 2019, and demand for imported product will increase.

If Ireland maintains our AFS-free status, we are well positioned to benefit from this expected but often price sensitive increase in demand from China in 2019.

An increase in the Irish pig price above a breakeven figure in the region of €1.60c/kg is a long way off today, and this anticipated price rise may not come in time for some of our pig farmers.

* Acting executive secretary, IFA pigs committee

Teagasc farm walk: what nitrogen is best for January and February?
With ground conditions near perfect and temperatures above normal, some farmers are considering nitrogen, writes Jack Kennedy.

ASA members and farmers from all over Ireland met in Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford, yesterday to hear from Teagasc researchers and advisers on issues affecting nutrient management and new technologies aimed at improving the agricultural response to climate change and more efficient use of fertilisers.

CAN (27% nitrogen) is the most popular form of straight nitrogen fertiliser used on Irish farms, but it should not be used at this time of the year.

Calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), while the most popular, is very susceptible to be lost to the atmosphere as nitrous oxide.

If it rains, it can be lost by leaching much easier than other forms of nitrogen.

So the message is don’t use CAN in January or February for early nitrogen applications.

So urea is a better bet at this time of the year.

Yes, you can get ammonia losses to the atmosphere when you use urea, but it is cheaper per unit of nitrogen than CAN and less prone to losses in January and February.

Alternatively, protected urea has been used in plot trials in Johnstown Castle and the results show it reduces losses of both ammonia and nitrous oxide.

The plot trials showed the grass yield was the same, ammonia losses were reduced by 80% compared with urea and nitrous oxide losses by 60% compared to CAN.

Larger field trials have started in Johnstown and Curtins Farm in Moorepark, but no detailed results have been released yet.

Teagasc Johnstown researcher Dominka Krol said: “In our plot trials, we have shown very little difference in grass yield between the three products – urea, CAN and protected urea. We have however seen very significant potential environmental savings.

"Some new trial work is ongoing to establish if we can pick up any residues, etc, in outputs from cows grazing swards where protected urea has been used.”