Tillage farmers raise concerns over ‘policing’ of straw imports

Tillage farmers have raised concerns over the quality of some straw being imported into the country from further afield.

Having identified the shortage in fodder stocks in Ireland; Spanish, UK and other international companies are advertising straw and alfalfa on sites – such as DoneDeal.ie – to assist Irish farmers grappling to secure winter reserves.

However, with a likelihood of further fodder imports arriving in the months ahead, Bobby Miller, chairman of the Irish Grain Growers’ Group (IGGG), is worried about the traceability of some straw imports coming in.

Also Read: Silage sees 31% price surge in 2018 – DoneDeal

He highlighted that there could be “significantly costly implications” to the tillage sector if pests and invasive weeds land with imports inside farm gates.

We have fodder that is going to be imported and we’re not sure of the quality. We are very worried about the likes of blackgrass in the bales that are being imported.

Blackgrass

The UK tillage sector has a serious problem with blackgrass. In many cases, whole fields of cereal crops have been wiped out with the weed. Many farmers spray cereal crops with glyphosate to control the weed; this results in the destruction of the crop and economic loss for the farmer.

The major weed of cereal crops produces large volumes of seed which it sheds before the crop is cut. The species has also developed a significant resistance to a range of herbicides used to control it.

The situation is proving financially crippling for UK farmers from a herbicide standpoint and it has also led to substantial yield reductions.

Monitoring of imports

Miller queries how fodder imports are being monitored by authorities now and how they will be policed this coming winter if reserves continue to diminish.

“There is a severe lack of fodder in the country, as happened last winter, and we are wondering who is policing what’s being imported for the likes of blackgrass especially? That is our chief concern.

“We have no information on what is being imported and where it is arriving to. We don’t want a situation where straw is coming in and it is full of blackgrass and is ending up on a tillage farm and spreading.

It is a huge problem in the UK and it is very hard to control. It takes over fields, it is very aggressive and it is a massive cost to the tillage sector over there.

“We are concerned that that problem will be imported into this country. We have rules and regulations with regards to livestock coming into the country and when you are away on holidays you can’t bring back plants and vegetables  – yet who is policing all this fodder?” Miller said.

Blackgrass control

Blackgrass has become a problem on some Irish farms in recent years and where it is a problem it should not be ignored.

Ploughing can result in a 69% reduction in the weed seeds, while rotation can also significantly reduce infestation. Where the weed is a problem in a growing crop, it can be pulled where numbers are low, but farmers should be sure to pull all plants.

In the case of a bad infestation glyphosate may be applied or some farmers opt to wholecrop the cereal crop before the weed goes to seed.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine recently stated to AgriLand that it carries out Plant Health Import Controls annually on consignments of plants and plant products imported directly to Ireland from over 30 different countries.

Import controls include: inspections of plants for planting; potatoes; fruit and vegetables; cut flowers; timber; and wood packaging material – all of which are potentially high risk material in terms of pest entry and spread.

When asked if fodder imported during the fodder crisis last spring had been tested by the departments as it entered the country, a spokesperson for the department said: “As imports of fodder from other EU member states are considered a low-risk pathway for potential entry of regulated harmful organisms, there are no plant health controls or restrictions in place for these fodder imports”.

Fodder Production Incentive Measure

The IGGG representative said that members of the group are showing interest in the Government’s recently launched incentive measure for tillage farmers to produce additional feed this autumn through a financial commitment of up to €2.75 million.

This measure will provide an incentive of €155/ha for tillage growers who grow a temporary crop of short rotation grasses for fodder production over the winter months and €100/ha for those growing catch crops – such as fodder rape and stubble turnips.

Currently over 23,000ha of catch crops are supported under the Agri-Environment Scheme, GLAS.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has said that this additional funding commitment aims to incentivise “a doubling” of this area.

“There is a good bit of uptake. Tillage farmers that were in GLAS in the last couple of years are used to growing catch crops on their farms.”

However, he cautioned that some interested parties are perplexed by what they should charge for the end product.

The Teagasc figures suggest that it will cost you €35 to make a round bale for silage; but what profit will a tillage farmer make if it’s going to cost that much to produce.

“What should the charge be to the buyer? It’s going to be a costly exercise for some,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mark Browne, of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) Grain Committee is urging farmers to consider applying to the Government’s new incentive measure.

We need to look at this and get the crops grown to alleviate a major crisis. We think there isn’t enough interest; lads are talking a little bit about it, but not enough.

Browne acknowledged that there are some concerns about the level of market demand for the catch crops over the coming season.

“Lads don’t know whether they will have a market if they do grow it; but we’re fairly sure there will be a market – the situation is getting worse everyday,” Browne concluded.

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