Courtesy of the presentation given by Teagasc’s James O’Loughlin, delegates attending this week’s Virginia Show Dairy Conference were left in no doubt of the need for most Irish milk producers to drain a proportion of their land. But at what cost?

On the upside, improved drainage will lift grass yields by up to 20%. But, according to the latest Teagasc figures, the breakeven point in terms of justifying such an investment equates to a milk price of 28c/L.  The scary reality is that it costs between €6,000 and €7,000 per hectare to drain marginal land in this country at the present time. This figure includes the establishment of a grass re-seed. But given the volatility that looks set to impact on the dairy sector over the coming years, it is petty apparent that farmers will not be able to afford this level of financial commitment.

Under these circumstances, it is incumbent on the Government to act. And the obvious way of doing this is to include a realistic land drainage and re-seeding scheme within the new Rural Development Programme. Without this form of support, it is questionable if the dairy sector will come near to meeting the growth targets set down within Harvest 2020, using grass as the primary feedstock offered to cows.

The case for a realistic drainage scheme is easy to make: what’s equally important is for government to ensure that the support monies made available are actually accrued by farmers rather than ending up in the pockets of drainage contractors and the various input suppliers. Too often in the past, we have seen cases of the supply sector conveniently upping their prices during periods of grant availability. The way round this is for Government to introduce a drainage scheme, using a ‘standard costs’ approach. That way everyone gets a fair crack of the whip: the farmers and the contractors.