AFBI dairy farm roadshows prove a real crowd puller

Large crowds featured during the AFBI on farm events this week.
Large crowds featured during the AFBI on farm events this week.

Over 500 farmers attended three highly informative ‘Dairy Innovation in Practice’ farm road show events this week in Banbridge, Enniskillen and Newtownstewart.

The roadshows were organised by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, in conjunction with AgriSearch, the Ulster Grassland Society and CAFRE, and were designed to showcase how AFBI science is making a real difference to dairy farming in Northern Ireland.

Dr Sinclair Mayne (AFBI), Ian McClelland (host farmer), Dr Debbie McConnell (AFBI and event coordinator) and Jason Rankin (AgriSearch) at the Banbridge Dairy Innovation in Practice Roadshow.

Dr Sinclair Mayne (AFBI), Ian McClelland (host farmer), Dr Debbie McConnell (AFBI and event coordinator) and Jason Rankin (AgriSearch) at the Banbridge Dairy Innovation in Practice Roadshow.

Ian McClelland (Banbridge), Aidan McManus (Enniskillen) and David Hunter (Newtownstewart) hosted the farm walks and their enthusiastic contribution to the events highlighted how new innovations can be incorporated into different dairy production systems to maximise productivity and financial returns, with particular emphasis on producing more milk from forage. All three farmers are new dairy entrants and are part of AFBI’s Grass Check programme.

Speaking at the Enniskillen event, host farmer Aidan McManus commented: “Working with AFBI as part of the Grass Check project has been invaluable for me. The information I have obtained on grass growth and quality has helped me identify low performing fields on the farm and I am now working closely with AFBI to identify underlying issues such as soil fertility and sward quality. The AFBI Grass Check network also means I can share information with other farmers and this has been a really useful learning experience.”

Key messages from AFBI highlighted during the events included:

o All dairy farms need to Measure, Analyse and Plan in order to maximise profitability.

o Adequate intake of colostrum in the first hours of a calf’s life is essential. A calf needs 8.5 -10% of its birth weight (around four litres) as colostrum within the first 24 hours of life.

o Grass growth potential across Northern Ireland is over 12t DM/ha, and this is being achieved on a number of GrassCheck monitor farms. However to achieve this level of production requires good soil management based on regular soil analysis (at least every 3/4 years). Soil analysis should be used in determining the need for lime, slurry and fertiliser application, with particular emphasis on avoiding nitrogen, potash and sulphur deficiency.

o There is considerable scope to achieve higher levels of milk from grazing by greater focus on grass budgeting, avoiding grazing high covers and maintaining good grass quality throughout the season.

o Silage quality (particularly first cut silage) is very good this year and on many farms there is potential to reduce concentrate feed levels by up to 3kg/cow/day whilst maintaining performance, providing there is sufficient silage available.

The event was complemented with contributions from Agri-Search and the Ulster Grassland Society, as well as presentations on the Land Mobility Scheme.

If you missed the event there is the opportunity to view the talks through AFBI’s channel on You Tube and all of the information is reported in a booklet produced for the events which can be accessed on the AFBI website www.afbini.gov.uk