The final report of the Food Vision Tillage Group has recommended that an immediate financial support package be put in place for the sector for the 2024 growing season.

This is one of 28 recommendations outlined in the report, the finalised version of which has been published by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) today (Tuesday, May 14).

The support for the 2024 growing season would recognise the current significant challenges facing the sector, and prevent a loss in tillage area.

The recommendation did not outline a monetary value of any such support, but said that an identification of a funding source was a key factor to consider.

According to the report, funding in the order of €60 million/year for five years would be needed to pursue the recommendations in the report and to achieve a target of 400,000ha under tillage by 2030, which would reflect the financial loss to the sector in direct income payments under the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The Food Vision Tillage Group report is the third of three Food Vision reports that have been published across different sectors.

The Food Vision Dairy Group report, and the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group report, have both been published over the course of the last two years.

These groups and their reports are offshoots of Food Vision 2030, Ireland’s agri-food strategy to 2030, which puts a focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction and environmental measures.

This latest report on tillage contains 28 recommendations grouped into 10 policy areas.

Those policy areas are: tillage supports; availability and access to land; adding value; availability and sustainable use of plant protection products; risk management; environmental sustainability; research, education and advice; competitiveness and efficiency; anaerobic digestion; and organic tillage.

Under the tillage supports heading, four recommendations are made, one of which is the aforementioned immediate support for the 2024 growing season (recommendation 2).

The other recommendations in the area of supports are:

  • Recommendation 1 – Introduction of a Tillage Expansion and Sustainability Scheme to replace the Tillage Incentive Scheme, in order to provide longer-term support with an environmental focus;
  • Recommendation 3 – Examining existing supports for tillage farmers:
    • Optimising the budget for the Straw Incorporation Measure (SIM), taking account of the 2030 target for straw incorporation of 55,000ha and the need to balance the scheme’s ambition for soil health benefits with demand for straw from the livestock and mushroom sectors;
    • Seeking to extend EU supports for the production of protein crops beyond the current CAP;
    • Examining opportunities for extending the range of investments under the Tillage Capital Investment Scheme (TCIS) under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS);
    • Examining the impact of support measures on the evolving economic viability of the sector;
  • Recommendation 4 – Developing industry-led initiatives that support the economic and environmental sustainability of tillage growers:
    • Developing industry sustainability initiatives that drive positive sustainability actions on tillage farms;
    • Sharing of added value from sustainability across the supply chain, starting with the grower.

These first four recommendations, along with three others, are classed as “priority actions” for either immediate or short-term implementation by government.

The other three priority actions are as follows:

  • Recommendation 5 – Facilitating and encouraging the exchange of organic manure between livestock and tillage farmers by tasking the Agriculture Water Quality Working Group to develop proposals to facilitate an increase in the transfer of organic manure to tillage farms;
  • Recommendation 9 – Driving the preferential use of Irish feed grain and protein, and exploiting opportunities for value-added Irish feed:
    • Carrying out an analysis to establish the impact of using Irish-produced feed on the sustainability of the livestock sectors;
    • Bord Bia developing additional sustainable sourcing criteria for auditing at feed mills under the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme for feed;
    • Publicising relevant independent research confirming the nutritional and sustainability value of Irish feed ingredients across the feed industry;
  • Recommendation 20 – Ensuring the sustainable and safe use of wastewater and other industrial sludges and bio-based fertilisers to agricultural land:
    • Making the spreading of wastewater/sludges on tillage land conditional on effective controls and good practices during production, and only when spreading does not pose a risk to feed or food safety;
    • Department to engage with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review management and oversight of sludges being applied to land, with supports to be considered to facilitate the required changes.

The full suite of 28 recommendations are outlined below:

  • Tillage supports:
    • Recommendation 1 – Introduce a Tillage Expansion and Sustainability Scheme;
    • Recommendation 2 – Put in place an immediate financial support package for the sector for the 2024 growing season;
    • Recommendation 3 – Examine existing supports for tillage farmers, including young farmers;
    • Recommendation 4 – Develop industry-led initiatives that support the economic and environmental sustainability of tillage growers;
  • Availability and access to land:
    • Recommendation 5 – Facilitate and encourage exchange of organic manure between livestock and tillage farmer;
    • Recommendation 6 – Consider the impact of solar farm development on the availability of land suitable for tillage;
    • Recommendation 7 – Explore innovative taxation measures to support the low-emission tillage sector;
  • Adding value:
    • Recommendation 8 – Align the Irish Grain Assurance Scheme with Origin Green;
    • Recommendation 9 – Drive the preferential use of Irish feed grain and protein and exploit opportunities for value added Irish feed;
    • Recommendation 10 – Strengthen industry and grower links and continue support for research and early-stage product development focusing on the use of Irish grown crops in the drinks sector;
    • Recommendation 11 – Continue support for Irish research and early-stage product development focusing on increasing the use of Irish grown crops in the food sector and bioeconomy;
    • Recommendation 12 – Continue supports for the marketing of Irish drink and plant-based food products;
    • Recommendation 13 – Commission research on the potential for an oilseed crops processing industry in Ireland;
    • Recommendation 14 – Explore opportunities for developing a premium milling industry;
    • Recommendation 15 – Increase participation of tillage farmers in producer organisations;
  • Availability and sustainable use of plant protection products:
    • Recommendation 16 – Develop integrated pest management approaches and support their adoption at farm level;
  • Risk management:
    • Recommendation 17 – Promote existing risk management tools and examine opportunities for an Irish model of crop/price insurance;
  • Environmental sustainability:
    • Recommendation 18 – Support the sector in minimising the loss of nutrients from arable land;
    • Recommendation 19 – Continue to improve the environmental footprint of tillage farms;
    • Recommendation 20 – Ensure the sustainable and safe use of wastewater and other industrial sludges and bio-based fertilisers to agricultural land;
  • Research, education and advice:
    • Recommendation 21 – Promote tillage as a career choice for students;
    • Recommendation 22 – Provide adequate advisory support services to Irish growers to improve production efficiency and environmental sustainability;
  • Competitiveness and efficiency:
    • Recommendation 23 – Ensure the highest quality seed of new and improved varieties are available to Irish farmers;
    • Recommendation 24 – Exploit opportunities for improved crop varieties through new breeding techniques;
    • Recommendation 25 – Adopt measures to control and prevent the spread of grass weeds on Irish tillage farms;
    • Recommendation 26 – Provide greater recognition and support for agricultural contractors recognising the important services they provide to the tillage sector;
  • Anaerobic digestion:
    • Recommendation 27 – Exploit opportunities for the tillage sector from anaerobic digestion;
  • Organic tillage:
    • Recommendation 28 – Exploit opportunities for growing the organic tillage sector.