Is the Irish tillage industry facing a cliff edge?

Prolonged periods of wet weather in recent weeks have seen the 2017 harvest stall in many parts of the country.

Farmers have struggled to harvest spring barley crops in recent days and, in instances where crops have been saved, the yields generated have been variable to say the least.

According to the IFA’s (Irish Farmers’ Association) Liam Dunne, over 50% of this year’s spring barley crop is still to be saved.

“A lot of farmers are definitely worried about late-sown crops as they suffered two periods of drought – both at sowing and in the early stages of growth.

“The harvest tonnage is definitely going to be back this year.”

The IFA National Grain Committee Chairman added: “Heavy rains and high humidity has stopped harvest progress, particularly in northern parts of the country for the last 10 days.

Unless there is a considerable improvement in weather, field losses will rise dramatically as straw begins to break down and heads fall to the ground.

He also said that prices of €140/t are being paid for barley and €150/t is available for wheat.

“Even at these kinds of prices, it’s not going to encourage tillage farmers to go in and sow crops for next year. Tillage farmers really need some kind of pick-me-up and the Irish tillage industry is facing a cliff edge.

“Margins are non-existent and a lot of people are caught with very high repayments on machinery and equipment.

Tillage farmers can manage with a year or two of poor returns; but this will be the fifth year of poor prices and farmers need to continue to invest in equipment to run their businesses or everything starts to go backwards.

The Kildare-based farmer also said: “Arable crop production in Ireland is set to fall further as many growers question the futility of growing crops that in many cases are returning low, if not negative, margins particularly of rented land, and then factor in a weather risk.

“There needs to be a fundamental rethink regarding the role and value of cereal, oilseed and protein crop production in terms of sustainable food production as manufacturers and processors target a wider EU market post-Brexit,” he said.

A cliff edge scenario

He also said: “There’s a critical mass in the tillage industry and if the number of acres grown drops below a certain point, the tillage sector faces a cliff edge and every offshoot of the sector suffers.

“If there are not enough acres being grown, merchants will not be able to afford to have agronomists on the ground and the Irish tillage sector could suffer,” he said.

Another important area that Dunne touched on was how the Irish beef, sheep and dairy sectors will source the cereal-based feedstuffs they require if the number of acres sown falls below the above mentioned critical mass.

“We know that Irish grain is good and that has been proven time and time again. Beef, dairy and sheep farmers really need to question what source of performance can actually be achieved from imported grain. If we are forced to import grain in the future where will the straw come from?,” he questioned.

“There will be no straw coming on the boats carrying loads of imported grain and we all know that straw is an integral part of the livestock sector in Ireland.”

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