Convergence has potential to wipe out tillage

In a week when tillage farmers are looking out at grey skies, wet fields and wheel tracks filled with rain water on land where cereal crops, beans, potatoes and oilseed rape lie waiting to be harvested, it’s unfortunate to say the least that the new Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConologue is pushing on with convergence and seems to be making it one of his priorities.

Figures show that 57% of tillage farms are dependent on their basic payment to be sustainable. Tillage farms have been disproportionately impacted by convergence and have seen higher reductions in their basic payments than any other sector.

In a year like 2020 when crops suffered and continue to suffer yield and quality penalties due to a wet planting period, a drought in the summer and rain at harvest, that payment will be more important than ever.

A look at the grain and heads on the ground, the straw floating and the soaking soils is obviously needed before tillage farmers’ payments begin to be cut again.

Without tillage this country’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions will increase. The sector produces approximately four times less carbon equivalents per hectare than beef and eight times less than dairy.

Without tillage Irish food and drink will lose further face in its marketing campaigns. Without tillage our biodiversity plan dis-improves.

With convergence a farmer ticking the boxes and marginally meeting requirements will receive a payment transferred from a farmer struggling to cut their crops in the rain, a farmer struggling to pay the bills and receiving little in the form of support or incentive to stay in the industry. So they will leave the industry.

No doubt balance is needed in the basic payment scheme. The day of big payouts is gone. The requirement to meet high standards and protect the environment is essential, but convergence cannot happen at the expense of an industry.

Convergence is already damaging tillage farms. A long and hard think is needed if it is to continue and alternative support needs to be provided in order to sustain an industry that ticks so many boxes in terms of carbon sequestration, biodiversity and emissions reduction.