An agricultural consultant based in Co. Cavan has said that it is “ill-advised” to pay “crazy money” to rent land, and that there are other options.

Speaking at a monthly meeting of the Cavan Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) branch on Monday (February 13), well-known agricultural consultant and former president of the Agricultural Consultants’ Association (ACA), Tom Canning said: “I have seen a lot of cases recently where farmers are paying crazy money to rent land.”

He added that in a lot of these cases, the move is “ill-advised” and said “the farmer is not talking to their advisor to see are there other options and in most cases, there are other options”.

“A lot of land is being taken needlessly in my opinion when other options should be looked at to try and make life easier and make the farm more profitable,” he said.

Renting land

Changes to the nitrates regulations this year have seen many farmers, in particular dairy farmers, who are heavily stocked, panic-renting land at high prices in an effort to reduce their overall stocking rate. This land is often a considerable distance from their farms.

“In some cases, guys are penny-wise pound-foolish,” Canning said.

He argued that it can be hard enough to make a good margin on owned land, let alone on land that is rented at an expensive rate.

“I see farmers taking land all over the country and they’re ripping and tearing around to keep on top of it all and at the end of the day, it’s not sustainable,” he said.

“For something to be sustainable, it has to be profitable, enhance the environment and surely there has to be a better life/work balance in it.”

Cannings’ consultancy firm deals with approximately 570 farmers in Cavan. He said 168 of these are dairy farmers and the remainder are drystock farmers.

Explaining why he believes there are other options to renting more land, the former ACA president said: “One of the astounding things I have seen is that on average, dairy farmers in this region are carrying 57 other livestock units along with their herd of dairy cows.”

He said that some dairy farmers are keeping their calves on and then having to rent expensive land to feed them.

“Dairy farmers should firstly look at offloading stock that’s not milking. Contract rearing is a good option,” the agri-advisor said.

He added that another option to reduce the level of non-milking stock on dairy farms is to use 100% beef bulls, sell the calves and buy in replacement heifers if and when they are needed.

Canning acknowledged that there may be disease risks associated with this system but affirmed that these are quite low where farmers buy heifers from a reputable source.

There was a strong opinion amongst the dairy farmers at the meeting that the nitrates derogation in Ireland should be regionalised based on water quality.

Canning argued that in many cases, the higher stocking rates on farms don’t necessarily make any more money and said “the focus has been wrong”.

The former ACA president gave a full overview of the changes to nitrates regulations and how they will affect all farmers.

The county’s IFA environmental committee representative was elected on the night and it was dairy farmer Seamus Dolan who won the position.