Farming & Fisheries

Conor puts big emphasis on soil fertility and nitrogen efficiency

September 14th, 2022 7:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Kevin, left, and and his son Conor Moloney, on their farm at Boxton outside Ballinspittle. (Photo: Donie Hurley)

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The Moloneys in Boxtown near Kinsale run one of the country’s 90 Teagasc Signpost programme farms. Each of the farms has a clear focus on reducing carbon emissions while also improving water quality, biodiversity and increasing their profit margins

CONOR Moloney, along with his partner Rosarie and baby daughter Alanna, farm in partnership with his parents Kevin and Ita in Boxtown near Ballinspittle.

The farm comprises 81ha with 53ha of this on the milking platform.

Conor is farming at home full-time since 2013. Significant investment has been made to buildings and infrastructure in that time.

A new 16-unit parlour, including dairy and drafting facilities, was constructed in 2015 and an extra 70 cubicles were added in 2018.

The dairy herd has been increasing slowly every year over the last number of years and they currently milk 180 cows.

Cows start calving in the first week of February and the six-week calving rate is 70%. Last year Conor supplied 415kgMS per cow at 4.3% fat and 3.57% protein, with a total of 350kg meal fed per cow.

Conor has placed a big emphasis on soil fertility and nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) on the farm.

NUE is a measure of nitrogen balance at the farm gate and is measured as a percentage. It is calculated based on the amount of nitrogen brought in the farm gate in the form of fertiliser or slurry versus nitrogen going out the farm gate in the form of milk and meat.

Last year the farm NUE was 28%.

This places the farm in the top 10% of farms nationally when compared to the recent national farm survey sustainability reports which put Irish dairy farms at 25% in terms of their ability to recover nitrogen from their nitrogen imports. The industry target of 35% is the figure set for farmers to achieve in the coming years.

Achieving NUE will indicate improved sustainability of our farming systems in three ways: improved usage of N inputs (fertiliser, feed) will save farmers money on input costs; benefit water quality, as improved nitrogen usage will reduce the risk of nitrogen losses to water and reduced fertiliser usage will also reduce ammonia emissions, thus improving air quality.

The milking platform stocking rate is currently at 3.5LU/ha. Due to the recent poor growth rates, Conor has had to supplement heavily in the last number of weeks.

He had increased his rotation length to +25 days and supplemented the grass shortfall with meal and silage.

Meanwhile, AIB has recently partnered with Teagasc in supporting Signpost. ‘As part of AIB’s partnership with Teagasc, we are looking to engage with various community and industry leaders  to share some insights into the Signpost programme and outline some of the progress that the programme is making at present,’ an AIB spokesperson said.

• Mark O’Sullivan is the farm advisor to the Moloney family and is based at the Teagasc advisory office in Clonakilty.

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