Tillage focus: Harvest becoming very difficult

The harvest has become a trying time for tillage farmers. Heavy rain showers have made cutting impossible in some areas, while others have made their way in and out of fields for a few hours – or even minutes – at a time.

Yesterday, August 19, AgriLand met Clive Carter in a field of winter oats which he has been waiting to cut for the past two weeks.

“Every time it comes halfway ready, a shower comes. That’s what everybody’s dealing with. You get a few minutes, or even an hour, here and there to get harvesting; it’s becoming very difficult,” Clive stated.

Clive Carter in his crop of winter oats

“There’s a lot of people very disheartened and demoralised. It’s becoming a very difficult harvest. I’d say it’s more frustrating than 2017 – for me anyway. I know 2017 was late, but this just seems to be worse. It’s early and it’s heavy rain.

“We’re lucky enough that it’s standing OK. There are bits going down; but, they’re more tossed and they’re 2ft above the ground. We’re not losing it yet, but we can’t get more bad days with these heavy, heavy spills of rain. Yesterday was horrendous.

We need it to stop raining.

Sprouting wheat; spring barley down

For tillage farmers the year started well. Winter and spring crops were planted in good conditions and work was carried out relatively easily during the spring and summer; crops looked promising.

“We sowed in the last few days of October. It was perfect all year. We did have a good bit of rain over the winter in December, but it bounced back.”

The season looked like it could bring great yields. However, spring barley crops have begun to break down and wheat is sprouting. Many winter oilseed rape crops still need to be cut.

I know a lot of people are in a worse position than me. I’m lucky enough that everything is standing.

“From what I’m hearing quality is holding up, but from now on it’s going to get serious. There was good potential in this crop, but now I just can’t get into it.”

Many winter wheat crops have sprouted already this season. Clive is fortunate that his wheat is only just ripe.

“I have wheat which luckily enough is only ripe now. It’s a bit later coming in than a lot of wheat. I’ve spring barley and beans as well.”

Spring barley crops are breaking down in many places.

“We’re about two weeks behind schedule from a normal year. Maybe spring barley is on time, but it’s difficult to get it. There’s no real difference between the early and later sown crops. It’s all ready now.

“There’s been very little spring barley cut. People are taking any chance they get. I think protein is coming in OK at present.”

Hitting next year’s crops

Clive’s farm would be considered to be on dry land – located in Ratheniska, Co. Laois. However, he noted that it’s getting messy on top.

“It’s affecting next year’s crops. People want to put in cover crops and can’t get out.

“I want to start ploughing for oilseed rape now and I was looking at the field this morning and there’s a couple of wet spots and water lying in tramlines, so I’m just going to have to leave that to dry out.”

There will be demand for straw

Clive added that the weather has made it difficult to save straw, and between the weather and an unwillingness of some farmers to pay for quality straw, he noted that many farmers are opting to chop.

He stated that he would chop his oaten straw if he had not sold it before it was cut, because turning straw in this weather is an added cost on the farmer.

“A lot of people are talking about chopping straw. I think straw is worth over €20/bale and if people are talking about a good bit less it’s worth more to chop it in.

I honestly think there will be a demand for straw this year, because the quality straw just isn’t there. You can see how much winter barley straw is left on the ground.

Importing straw when it has been chopped

Clive made an important point regarding chopping. He noted that livestock farmers are holding off on buying straw and added that it will be too late once straw is chopped, and hopes that straw is not imported in the winter time.

“The quality of straw is going to be reducing every day now. I hope it doesn’t get into a thing where the straw demand will come back and farmers start looking for subsidies to import straw when they were talking the price of straw down a month ago.

“There’s an awful lot still on the ground. I think people are talking down straw unnecessarily at present. Straw is going to be in demand. It’s going to be so hard to get.

“I’m lucky that I have four crops. It certainly spreads out the risk. I generally get the winter barley done in decent conditions. I didn’t have any oilseed rape this year, but there’s a lot with oilseed rape still to cut.”

This crop of oats had fallen, but was not lying flat on the ground

Talk about it

Clive – who is the secretary of the Irish Grain Growers’ Group (IGGG) – stated that there are people with crops in worse conditions than him, but added that it is essential that tillage farmers talk to each other during difficult times.

He also called on other farmers to help their neighbours during busy periods.

“Farmers need support. I’m in a good position compared to a lot of people. If you have a lot of crops to get through, it’s taking its toll on people.

“Even livestock farmers can help out tillage farmers at present. They did the same last year. Tillage farmers were helping livestock farmers out.

“Even if it’s just to drive a tractor or bring in a bit of grain. It’s very demoralising. We’re at a point here now that if we get anymore significant rain it is going to be a crisis.”

Is there a tillage crisis?

Clive pondered that the tillage industry has been in crisis for the past five years and very little has been done to rescue it. Aside from the weather, grain imports are taking their toll.

A rush of imports from the UK ahead of the Brexit deadline in October, along with current UK imports of grain, is something feared by the IGGG.

“Prices are down about 25%. We’re hearing of beef prices down a little bit more than 10%. We’re down 25% and there’s nothing really about it. We’re being undermined then by the cheap imports. In a difficult harvest, it’s a bit of an insult.

It’s a bit of an insult that they’ll still import the maize and the soybeans. People are talking about climate change and we’re importing maize and soybeans from South America.

“It’s frustrating that last year we had a fodder crisis and the beef and dairy sectors were bailed out. There is a bit of a tillage crisis at the minute and the tillage farmer will get nothing.”

Clive in a field of winter beans which he think will be ready for harvest around September 10

Focus on premium crops

The secretary of the IGGG called for policy changes.

“There needs to be more policy that focuses on premium crops. Milling wheat was dropped by Odlums last year. It couldn’t have been a quality issue because there was never as good a quality as last year. There needs to be some policy to promote indigenous crops.

“No one seems to be pushing it. We’re seeing malting barley being imported as well every year and we’re told the buyers don’t care if it’s imported.

“It’s a bit of an insult that two of the major brands – exporting all over the world – are importing barley from we don’t know where. It might come in from a port, but it doesn’t mean it originated there.”

Dry weather in the forecast

As our conversation drew to a close, a heavy shower of rain came across the hills and ended any hope of cutting the crop of oats yesterday evening.

It’s a tough time on tillage farms at present; hopefully dry weather forecast for the weekend will allow a dent to be made in the harvest.