Grain growers who have lost land courtesy of leasing arrangements that have not been renewed should be allowed to stack surplus entitlements, which they own, over the actual land they are farming, according to a Co. Wexford tillage farmer.

Art Murphy, who farms near Bunclody, has said that this arrangement should be put in place for an initial 12-month period and, if need be, it should be renewed for a further year, or until such times as cereal growers can find additional land commensurate with their complete entitlement allocation.

“Leasing or selling entitlements is not an option for grain producers. Tillage farmers in the Wexford area cannot compete with dairy farmers, who are willing to pay up to €350/ac for a 10-year lease.

“The end result of this activity is a fast diminishing tillage sector, which is bad news for agriculture as a whole in this country.

“Ireland’s tillage sector has shrunk by almost two-thirds over the past number of years. At one stage almost 1m acres of land were dedicated to cereal production in this country. Today the figure has dropped to around 300,000ac.”

Murphy said that land taken by dairy farmers and put into grass cannot be subsequently ploughed up for cereals.

“So this represents a further erosion of the land area that can be dedicated to tillage in the future,” he said.

No doubt additional feed wheat and barley can be imported to make up for the shortfall. But the real casualty will be the malting industry.

“The reality is that distilling is now the fastest growing industry in this country. Irish growers supply the highest quality malting barley produced in Europe and, possibly, beyond.

“But, the way things are going, the likes of Boortmalt will be in for a shock in the very near future when they find that local growers cannot supply the quantities of malting barley they actually need to meet the needs of brewers and distillers.”

Murphy also believes that the tax breaks linked to the new land leasing arrangements favour non-active landowners to the total detriment of those farmers working the land.

“To all intents and purposes the landowners can pocket all of their rental incomes, as it is coming to them on a tax-free basis. Meanwhile, every bit of profit I generate is fully exposed to tax. This is a totally unfair situation.

“The government must look at these arrangements again, so as to give the working farmer a fair crack of the whip.”