Desperate times: Grain growers ramp up Storehouse protest

The Irish Grain Growers Group (IGGG) took its protest inside the Guinness Storehouse on Monday (December 4).

The IGGG has stated that it is not stopping until progress is made. The group said that it will continue to come back and has other ideas in the pipeline. It is currently working on a documentary, focused on the plight of malting barley growers.

While the majority of the group staged a quiet demonstration outside the facility, approximately eight farmers then took a letter into the admissions section – where the group handed another letter, outlining its position, to a member of Guinness staff.

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Bobby Miller and Colm Fingleton of the IGGG entering the Guinness Storehouse with a letter for Diageo

The demonstration was the second at the storehouse in the space of three weeks and the third protest in six weeks – having also marched outside of Boortmalt in Athy in October. The demonstrations are being held to highlight the low price being paid for malting barley by Boortmalt.

IGGG chairman, Bobby Miller, spoke to AgriLand at St. James’s Gate.

“We’ve had no response from Boootmalt Chief Operations Officer (COO) Peter Nallen or anyone in Boortmalt and it’s unacceptable. 40-50% of the Boortmalt malting barley growers are represented by our group.

“The last time we were here we sent in a letter requesting a meeting with Diageo – to outline our position.

“We’re back up here today because, in our eyes, there was no progress. The response that we got from Diageo made us realise that the company does not recognise the seriousness of the situation.

We told them quite clearly that malting barley is disappearing out of Ireland – and it’s not the farmers’ fault.

“Diageo and Boortmalt must recognise that the IGGG wants to unanimously represent its members into the future and no longer has confidence in the IFA [Irish Farmers’ Association]. Members have asked the IFA for the Memorandum of Agreement several times and have had no response.”

‘Doesn’t make sense to grow malting barley anymore’

Miller stated that farmers in the IGGG are not making money from malting barley.

“We as farmers have a long tradition of growing malting barley. If you’re not getting enough money you can’t grow the crop and that is the reality of the situation. We’re going out of business. We are going to grow crops that are more viable. It doesn’t make sense anymore to grow malting barley.”

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The IGGG outside of the Guinness Storehouse on Monday (December 4)

It is now coming close to the time that farmers will be making seed orders for next year’s malting barley crop. AgriLand asked Miller if he was going to order seed from Boortmalt.

“I’m going to take my seed as always but I’m unsure whether I will sow it if nothing changes. I will take my seed in the hope that the situation improves. We don’t want to disrupt seed supply; or how the company works. We know that these businesses have to work and that Boortmalt has to get its work done as well.

“How can we keep going the way we’re going? The current situation is that there are more profitable crops that we can grow.

It’s up to Boortmalt and Guinness to realise that more has to be paid for the crop if they want it to be sown.

“We won’t be any worse off if we stop growing malting barley and that is the reality. There are other alternatives; and we are looking at other alternatives.

grain growers

“In the traditional malting barley areas there is a reduction in the amount of the crop being grown.

If you ask any of the farmers here – have they reduced the area of malting barley that they have planted? They all have. What more proof does Diageo want? We’re not making it up.

Diageo statement

Diageo responded to the IGGG’s demonstration. Some of the response was similar to that given out following the last demonstration.

However, Diageo added: “We produce all of our beer for the Irish market in St James’s Gate. Thanks to the partnership between malting barley growers, the IFA and Boortmalt, we have been able to source the majority of our malt from growers in Ireland over the last number of years, and this is something that we want to continue.

Unlike others in the drinks sector in Ireland, we neither import beer for sale; nor do we rely on imported grain.

“A combination of high world grain stocks, greater competition from Russia, coupled with higher production costs due in a large part to the disproportionate increase in fertiliser costs, has resulted in reduced milling wheat premiums and margins for all grain growers in recent years.

Boortmalt continues to engage with the IFA on this issue.

“We again remind the Irish Grain Growers Association that our businesses relationship is with Boortmalt, who in turn negotiates on pricing and other issues with the IFA. Diageo has no role to play in these discussions.”

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