Opinion

Farm contractors should have access to bespoke grants

Farmers undercutting full-time contractors – using machinery procured with the support of grant aid – is the height of folly.

All this does is keep Irish agriculture operating at levels of efficiency that would hardly have been tolerated 50 years ago, never mind the second decade of the 21st century.

As a means of counterbalancing this, I believe that a specific grant system should be made available to bespoke contracting operations.

This would allow such businesses to invest in the new technologies that can deliver real efficiency improvements on Irish farms.

Smart technology has been around the farm machinery sector for the past 20 years. The use of GPS is a case in point. It has opened up opportunities galore to utilise new crop management systems that help deliver improved efficiency and greater levels of profitability.

But how many Irish farmers can, for example, justify the purchase of a variable-rate fertiliser spreader and the software that accompanies it? Very few, I would imagine.

The knee-jerk justification for this state of affairs is to point to the relatively small scale of Irish farm businesses. But contracting operations, by their very nature, would not be hampered by this constraint.

Across in the UK and in countries like France and Germany numerous farmers work together with contractors on every aspect of the required crop establishment, management and harvesting operations.

The ensuing scale of operation, which this delivers for the contractor, provides a base to allow ‘smart farming’ techniques make a real and positive difference.

This state of affairs can be replicated in Ireland. But it will only happen if there is a professional contracting sector in situ – one that can really deliver for its farmer clients.

Currently, large numbers of Irish farm businesses are over-mechanised with under-specified equipment they really don’t need.

Contracting offers many benefits. In the first instance it frees up the farmer’s time when it comes to getting those ‘heavy-lifting’ jobs, such as slurry spreading and silage making, over the line.

And just think of all the money this would free up, as opposed to the commitment of making the monthly repayments on machinery that is only used during a relatively small number of weeks throughout the year.

Investing in rust never seemed like a viable option to me.

Using a contractor also takes the pressure off those farmers seeking certification under the myriad quality assurance schemes. Spraying is a case in point. If the contractor is certified for the job in hand, so is the farmer that makes use of the service.

It all seems like a bit of a no-brainer to me!