Government ‘must address continued decline’ of tillage

The Government must halt the continued decline of the Irish tillage sector; this was the message Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Grain Committee chairman Mark Brown had for Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

Since 2008, the area planted to the main cereal crops has reduced by 67,500ha, which represents a drop of over 20%.

This stark reality confirms that tillage must be considered as a vulnerable sector in Irish agriculture, Browne said.

The chairman emphasised how the current drought crisis has underlined the strategic importance of the arable sector within the broader agricultural industry and a reminder that it underpins Ireland’s €12.6 billion valued livestock, dairy, drinks and mushroom export sectors.

Browne was speaking at a meeting with the minister, along with South Leinster regional chairman Tom Short and a delegation of members of the IFA National Grain Committee.

Short stressed to the minister that, although there has been a reasonable start to the 2018 harvest of winter crops, the situation with spring crops is totally different and he highlighted the potential crisis in waiting.

“At best, yields are predicted to be only average due to the wet cold spring and subsequent drought conditions, while it would appear that grain and straw volume will be poor particularly along the east and south east coasts.”

Incentives for catch crops

In relation to the current drought crisis, Short said that tillage farmers are willing to help by planting catch crops to alleviate the fodder deficit.

However, due to the high establishment costs of these crops, he said the minister should introduce incentive measures to encourage tillage farmers to grow such crops.

Tillage farmers who plant catch crops under GLAS need a derogation in relation to the choice of crops and to be able to conserve by October 1.

Regarding the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the tillage sector, Browne said that these farmers had been disproportionately affected by the current CAP due to convergence and greening issues – and any continuation of these types of measures would only contribute to the further decline of the arable area in this country.

Along with an increase in the protein payment, the chairman called for other targeted coupled supports to be considered for Pillar I in the proposed CAP regulations.

Regarding Pillar II, he said greater flexibility was needed in farm schemes so that tillage farmers qualify for higher grant rate payments.

This is particularly relevant in relation to the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) and Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS)  initiatives.

Under the proposed new Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme, tillage farmers must be eligible for payments on land that qualifies for an ANC payment in the review of areas.

Other issued raised with Minister Creed included support for renewables, quality assurance testing of imported grain, low-cost loans, Origin Green and research on native-grown feedstuffs.

The IFA Grain chairman concluding by acknowledging the work the minister undertook on the three-crop rule derogation for this year but said that tillage farming has become a vulnerable sector and urgent political action is needed at local and EU level to protect it.