Compound feed usage on local livestock farms increased by approximately 20 per cent during August of this year, compared with the same period in 2016, according to Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) president Dr Keith Agnew.
“This is partly accounted for by the fact that many dairy and cattle farmers have had stock in since July, as a result of the very bad weather,” he explained.
“However, the latest feed trends also reflect a growing demand within the pig and poultry sectors.
“In fact, feed production has been at record levels for the period January to August 2017. This trend reflects a period of improved farm gate prices, particularly within the dairy sector.
“Currently, there are short term supply problems regarding the availability of soya hulls and sugar beet pulp. However, these should be resolved in the New Year. Abundant supplies of both grain and soya have seen prices fall to historically low levels in US Dollar terms, however, the weakness in Sterling relative to both the US Dollar and the Euro has served to push local feed prices up.
“On the other side of the equation, the currency-related impact on the prices paid for meat and dairy products has helped to reduce the impact of the rise in input costs.”
Mr Agnew confirmed that the United States has just recorded a bumper harvest and that planting in South America has gotten off to a good start.
“The crop performance achieved in North America is worthy of note. It was achieved in a year when weather conditions would, traditionally, have militated against the attainment of good yields.
“This, in turn, reflects the tremendous strides made by US plant breeders in developing new and improved crop varieties.
“We have also seen a major investment in crop storage by farmers across all of the world’s major cropping areas. Moving forward, this will allow farmers to be more strategic in the way they market their grain.
“Selling directly off the combine at harvest is fast becoming a thing of the past. And this may act to, at least, stabilise international grain prices moving forward.
The NIGTA president said that his organisation continues to place tremendous emphasis on the further development of the Fortress Food initiative, which has been developed with the Queen’s University Institute for Global Food Security.
“The scope of the scheme is being continuously expanded to include all feed compounders and grain importers,” he said.
“And it is working. Analysis carried out this time last year highlighted the issue of enhanced mycotoxin levels contained within imported soya hulls. This, in turn, encouraged a UK-wide response to the problem.”
Delivering continuous training and professional development opportunities for members of the Feed Adviser Register (FAR) in Northern Ireland is another NIGTA priority.
“We are currently working with the Agricultural Industries Confederation and CAFRE, to develop bespoke training schemes for advisors, specifically where the mitigation of greenhouse gas emission levels and other on-farm environmental challenges are concerned,” said Agnew.
“These will be rolled out during 2018 and will enable registered feed advisors to provide farmer clients with advice on best practice on the entire range of environmental issues that now impact on farm businesses.
“The courses represent the third tranche of professional training made available to advisors, since the establishment of FAR in Northern Ireland.
Turning to Brexit, the NIGTA President expressed his disappointment at the lack of political progress that has been made at Stormont over recent months.
“Given the political vacuum that now exists in Northern Ireland, NIGTA has been liaising strongly with DAERA and all the stakeholder groups, which represent farming and food in Northern Ireland.
“We have also liaised closely with feed trade colleagues in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
“The continuing uncertainty regarding the final Brexit outcome remains the biggest challenge for farming and food in Northern Ireland.
“NIGTA is seeking a Brexit outcome which recognises the strategic importance of UK Agriculture and its ability to produce high quality food in a sustainable way through the efficient use of available resources.”