‘Logic suggests that we should be trying to increase our tillage area’

The chairperson of the Irish Grain Growers’ Group (IGGG) has called on the Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary and the government to support tillage farmers through the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which he says will help to reduce Ireland’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and improve the country’s environmental credentials.

Bobby Miller told AgriLand that the coming months and years can be a time to reverse the decline in acreage in the sector and improve income at the same time.

Commenting on the recent decision of the Supreme Court to overturn the government’s plan on climate change, he stated that tillage farming can play a positive role on reducing our carbon footprint and improve biodiversity in this country. He added that the opportunity should be taken to give farmers an alternative to dairy farming.

“The tillage sector must be front and centre when it comes to meeting our targets [emissions]. We’ve let the acreage slip. Logic suggests that we should be trying to increase our tillage area.”

He noted: “Currently, most farmers deliver into a merchant and there’s no added value to the crop. Irish farmers need to work with industry to add value to their crops in order to achieve more sustainable prices than those available on the world market.

“We cannot stop imports, but we should be pushing for interventions like we have for other sectors.”

Bobby suggested that support is needed for producer groups, improved offerings from the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS), including basic infrastructure such as combine harvesters, more robust technical files and investment into the milling industry and more food-grade and plant-based protein products like oat drinks.

He commented that if a dairy farmer can receive a grant for a milking parlour, so why can’t a tillage farmer receive a grant for a combine?

The Laois man said among the first changes that could be made is the protein payment. He commented that there is scope to expand this scheme to other crops.

“The most immediate one is the protein payment. That should be at €350/ha as a starting point.

We need policy to support tillage farmers. We should be doing everything to encourage farmers to have more land in tillage.

Speaking on the country’s emissions targets, he added that improving efficiencies in dairy is not enough to bring down the absolute emissions from agriculture, but increasing arable cropping area can help significantly.

He added that a claw back on leased entitlements may also help to free up land which is not easily accessed and may help to support young farmers in the industry. In July, the IGGG also emphasised the severe affect convergence is having on the sector.

“Convergence is a very short-sighted strategy, and if the minister is serious about achieving the results set out in Farm to Fork and the emissions targets set out in the Programme for Government, protecting payments for farmers and keeping full-time, active tillage farmers should be a priority,” the group outlined.

Also Read: Convergence short-sighted and bad for tillage – IGGG

Opportunity to encourage people into tillage

Bobby commented that the government needs to take the opportunity to encourage people into tillage.

“The government has an alternative to dairy in tillage as a profitable industry. One real solution to reduce emissions is to have a tillage industry that’s as profitable as dairy for farmers. We have to have an alternative.

They have an opportunity with CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] and the environmental schemes to really encourage people to get into tillage.

Learn from the past

He urged the government to take the opportunity to improve this country’s environmental credentials while it was available and referred to a comment made by Teagasc’s Gerry Boyle in January, asking that the same mistakes are not made again.

At the time Boyle stated: “I remember a few years ago when we were discussing the current CAP; I don’t think there was sufficient focus placed on the implications that the proposed measures of the time had for the tillage sector.

“Now we can see in the past number of years the implications not only on markets of course, which are outside the farmer’s influence, but of the policies that were undertaken in regard to the income position of the tillage sector.

“There’s now a much greater reliance on direct payments in tillage and the overall margin in tillage is coming in second to dairy, but substantially lacking dairy. So economic sustainability has to be number one.”

Gerry stated that “the debate sometimes tends to be over-emphasised on environmental matters”.

“Tillage has a very positive story to tell when it comes to the environment.”