Dairygold Co-op recently held an action-focused event highlighting the significant efforts farmers are making to improve water quality. Raymond Goggin from Templemartin, Bandon, hosted the event and the actions he has taken over the last few years to improve water quality on his farm were outlined.

With a spring calving dairy herd, the farm is operating to a high level and is growing in excess of 12t DM/ha of grass per annum. Raymond milks 123 cows on a milking platform of 32 ha with an additional 9 ha across the road and a further 16 ha about a mile down the road. Both of these outside blocks are used for silage and youngstock, meaning the stocking rate on the milking platform is 3.8 cows/ha.

Middle band

Raymond sold 497kgs of milk solids last year and in order for him to stay in the middle band for nitrates (below 6,500 kg of milk) he had to dry off his cows early last year. This means he is focused on increasing fat and protein percentages in the current breeding season.

The predicted transmittable ability (PTA) for fat and protein from his most recent EBI report was 0.08 and 0.09 for protein and fat, respectively. But the cows Raymond selected for breeding this year (the top 30% of the herd) have a PTA of 0.14 for protein and 0.17 for fat. He hopes this will accelerate the genetic gain for solid percentages.

The six-week calving rate this year was 91% and the calving interval is 366 days. With 100% of heifers calving between 22 and 26 months, these are impressive herd performance figures.

Water quality

Raymond is also taking a proactive approach on the water quality. The water courses on the farm flows into the Sall river which is in good status. It in turn flows into the Brenny, which also has high water quality. But Raymond said that “there’s still room for improvement in terms of the water that leaves his farm.”

Two years ago he had an Agricultural Sustainability Support, and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) adviser visit the farm. ASSAP run by Teagasc and the dairy co-ops. The adviser assessed the farm for any potential issues that could be influencing the water quality of the streams nearby.

Following the visit, guidance was given to Raymond on certain pressure points. He was advised to construct a new dung stead for all his solid manure with the dirty water flowing into an existing tank. He cambered roadways to allow water to be diverted into fields where it gets a chance to filter into the soil.

Some water troughs were relocated away from water courses. Cows sometimes congregate around troughs and this means there can be a high concentration of nitrogen from urine in the soil around the troughs.

Eddie Burgess from the Agricultural Catchment Programme highlighted that the rate of nitrogen landing on the soil from cows urinating can be between 500 to 1,000kg N/ha. This is not a major worry in dry weather, but in wet weather from September onwards a significant portion finds its way into water courses.

Buffer strip

Another piece of advice given to Raymond was to allow a 10-metre buffer strip from his water courses all year round when applying slurry. This reduces phosphorus leaching into the water courses by up to 50-70%. As the farmyard is located at the bottom of a hill, a buffer of hedging was also planted to help soak away excessive water runoff before it reaches the yard.

Raymond aims to maximise nitrogen efficiency by ensuring soil health is at its optimum to maximise grass growth. Soil testing is done on the farm every two years. Most of the farm is above 6.5 for soil pH and in the three to four range, for phosphorus, but potassium in the last soil tests was poor with an average index of two, which is below target.

Raymond outlined that this is predominantly due to his silage ground which is bringing the averages down. As a result, his choice of fertiliser is 29-0-14 along with slurry which he hopes will improve his indexes for potash.

Clover has been a slow burner for him and he stressed the tricky nature of its establishment and maintenance. He prefers the full reseed method, but has incorporated clover through over-sowing as well.

“I know that all of the measures cost money but protecting the water courses so we can retain our derogations is so important,” he said. “And we also we need to hand over our land to the next generation in a good state as we are only the guardians of the land for a short while.

“The other thing is there is no point if I’m to do everything right for water quality on this farm if everyone else isn’t doing the same. Everyone has a role to play in terms of water quality and everyone has to start now,” he says.Everyone has a role to play in terms of water quality and everyone has to start now,” he says.

Nitrogen metric

A new metric called ‘nitrogen surplus’ was outlined at the event by UCC’s William Burchill. This is total nitrogen inputs like fertiliser and meal that’s coming into the farm minus the total nitrogen outputs such as milk or calves sold from the farm. Raymond has a nitrogen surplus of 157kg/ha, which is 2kg/ha below the national average of 159kg/ha.

Michael Harte Dairygold Interim Chief Executive, Sean O’Brien Dairygold Chairman,Conor Mulvihill Dairy Industry Ireland, Ted Massey DAFM, Billy Cronin Head of Dairygold Supply Chain, Raymond Goggin Farmer , Billy Kelleher MEP and Frank O Mara Director of Teagasc, Dairygold Farming for Water Event. Photography By Gerard McCarthy 087 8537228 More Info Contact Jean Bogan jbogan@dairygold.ie

Although the majority of dairy farms don’t operate as intensively as Raymond’s farm, this is why the figures are so closely aligned. The future national target for nitrogen surplus is 130kg/ha.

Potential impact of losing the nitrates derogation

Raymond is still operating his farm under the 250kg N/ha band, but he knows that this is unlikely to remain for much longer. Laurence Shalloo and Stuart Childs from Teagasc looked at what the loss of derogations would have on Raymond’s farm.

If derogation goes then Raymond will have to reduce cow numbers by 30. This will have a huge impact on the performance of the farm both financially and physically, which will make the farm tricky to manage, as it’s set up currently to run his 123 cows.

If the derogation was lost, Raymond would see a 23% drop in milk volume and milk solids. Laurence and Stuart adjusted Raymond’s Profit Monitor, assuming a drop of 30 cows.

This would lead to a 13% increase in production costs per unit of milk solids or per litre of milk. In total, the loss of the derogation would see net profits fall by 45%. This would threaten the financial viability of Raymond’s farm, where the herd size reflects that of the average Dairygold supplier.

Dairygold’s action plan to improve water quality

Since the beginning of last year, Dairygold has employed six sustainability advisers supporting farmers in identifying potential yard and land management issues affecting water quality. The advisers are also giving farmers guidance on nutrient management.

Dairygold is also incentivising milk suppliers through the sustainability bonus to engage with their ASSAP advisors to avail of measures to help identify and improve water quality from their farm.

Dairygold has identified the following as the main issues affecting water quality:

  • Soiled water/slurry storage.
  • Application rates of chemical Nitrogen too high and too early.
  • Clean/dirty water separation.
  • Buffer zones.
  • Collection of farmyard manure.
  • Silage pits.