No fodder crisis for farmer who used hydroponic system to feed cattle
Predictability and being able to ‘rest’ land are benefits of hydroponic system
Fodder brought in from Brighton, England, is distributed to farmers affected by the fodder shortage in Co Leitrim. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
At the height of the fodder crisis, when the Irish Farmers’ Association and the Department of Agriculture were importing hay from France, and pictures adorned our TV screens of airport authorities cutting grass verges for bales, one west Cork farmer was very relaxed.
Bantry-based Steve Collins overcame the crisis by using hydroponically grown barley seeds to feed his herd of 50 Dexter cattle.
By placing barley seeds in a growing tray in a climatically controlled hydroponic unit, he was able to grow them into grass mats 15cm to 20cm in height within six days. The unit, which is operated on a rotational system, produces 400kg of fresh green fodder each day (equivalent to one round silage bale).
“My land wouldn’t stand up to 50 cattle without the system, and I believe if I had been feeding them silage last winter, it would have cost me double,” Dr Collins says.
The feeding crisis was brought about by a very wet summer last year and a long wet winter followed by one of the coldest springs on record.
In May, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) said the fodder crisis would cost farmers more than €900 million.
“As spring was so late this year, there are no stores of silage and hay left. Feed for the coming winter is dependent on the harvest.”
Collins said that, although there was a reasonable first cut, everything is drying out fast, with many people reliant on a healthy second cut.
“Paying in excess of €60 for a round bale of silage, as people were doing last winter, is unsustainable.”
He says one of the huge benefits of the hydroponics system, developed by Australian company Fodder Solutions, is that it is totally predictable.
Owing to the climatically controlled system, the feed is not reliant on any weather patterns and will produce the same quantity of feed year on year so it is possible for farmers to accurately forecast their feed costs.
“You know pretty much what your feed bill will be instead of being at the mercy of grass harvest and weather,” he says.
“Farmers around me were getting into a real panic last winter with bales costing up to and more than €60 in some cases. I had a very stress-free winter though.”
The hydroponic system also helps Collins improve his land as it is rested far more due to the lack of need to cut silage.
“Through resting the land, we are reclaiming what was rough, boggy land worth under €1,000 an acre into what is now clover pasture and reasonable grazing land.”