Contractors seek baling compensation in proposed straw chopping scheme

The Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) has called on Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue to take account of the “huge concerns” it has with the proposed straw chopping scheme.

In a statement this morning (Thursday, January 28), the contractor organisation stressed that such a scheme will have a “significant negative impact” on the incomes of farm contractors who provide straw baling services, particularly in large areas of the south and east of Ireland.

The FCI told the minister in a letter this week that these farm contractors have made continuous large private financial investments in the purchase of high output and efficient baling and straw handling machinery over more than a decade.

FCI national chairman John Hughes said: “This proposed straw chopping scheme will effectively remove at least one million bales from the current system, meaning an annual drop in income of more than €4.5 million directly related to straw baling activities.”

The FCI is calling on the minister to:
  • Immediately suspend this proposed straw chopping scheme pending a proper discussion opportunity for stakeholders including farm contractors;
  • Carry out an in-depth and balanced examination of the value of straw and farmyard manures in the nutrient value chain as well as their animal welfare and environmental management benefits for Irish livestock and tillage farming;
  • In the event of the proposed straw chopping scheme being rolled out, agree a compensation package for farm contractors for the redundancy of their expensive machines and the significant loss of income, in association with FCI;
  • Agree to the role of the farm and forestry contractor in Irish agricultural policy where national policy decisions are vested in all stakeholders, especially including those who provide efficient and sustainable mechanisation services on Irish farms.

Continuing, Hughes added: “At FCI we estimate that there are in the region of 100 large square balers in operation in Ireland, largely within farm contractor fleets, which are used almost exclusively for straw baling.

“In addition, we estimate that there are more than 500 round balers that are used almost exclusively for straw baling within farm contractor fleets.

“Combine these machine investments with the investments in bale handling machines and purpose-built trailers by these farm contractors, and this amounts to an investment by farm contractors of more than €30 million in baling and associated machinery systems over a 10-year period – none of which was supported by Government or EU Grant Aid.

“This proposed straw chopping scheme means that your department is effectively reducing the incomes of more than 100 baling farm contractors without consultation, negotiation or compensation,” the FCI told the minister.

The association believes that the proposal to grant aid the chopping of 150,000t or 40,000ha of straw, which is the equivalent of 450,000 large square bales or 1 million 4X4 round bales straw bales rather than bale them, will amount to an annual income loss across baling farm contractors in the region of €4.5 million in 2021 alone.

This, the organisation said, is based on a “modest contractor charge” of €4.50 per 4X4 round bale or €10 per large square bale.

The FCI also claimed that another impact of the proposed scheme would be that “many” balers and handling machines would be “both redundant and almost worthless in their market values”.

The association highlighted a third impact of the proposed scheme would be to the baling and transport service agricultural contractors provide to tillage farmers – which includes the transfer of large numbers of straw bales to cattle and dairy farmers in their localities.

FCI farm contractors provide the machinery services in both directions in these transactions.

“In addition to their baling activities, their work in the loading and spreading of farmyard manures on cattle and dairy client farms, will now be significantly impacted by this proposed straw chopping scheme,” Hughes said.