Tillage not absent on Census of Agriculture…despite appearances

It was brought to AgriLand‘s attention that there are no specific tillage questions on the Census of Agriculture which was recently sent out to farms.

At first glance tillage farmers may feel somewhat left out. However, just because there’s no question specifically asking what crops you grow or how much land is designated to those crops, it doesn’t mean that the information isn’t being obtained.

On further investigation, AgriLand noted that section one is short and applies to all. It relates to farm management and agricultural training.

Section two looks at livestock and poultry and the numbers which were present on farms on September 1, 2020 – whether it’s a bullock, a goat, a piglet, a deer or a quail the Central Statistics Office (CSO) wants to know about it.

Section three then refers to land-use. This is where the tillage farmers started ticking boxes again – total area owned, land rented in and out.

However, tillage did not come up as a land-use type. Respondents are asked to indicate the area of land under woods and forestry, unused agricultural land and non-agricultural land.

Grassland was examined in more detail. The area in temporary grass, permanent grassland and rough grazing all had to be indicated.

Aside from the temporary grassland, which is technically classed as a tillage crop and can be used as part of crop diversification requirements, the tillage questions were sparse.

Examining the form in more detail it is clear that the area under tillage or left fallow could be calculated from the questions being asked, but with no detail on crop type which could be valuable in government policy development when examining break crops, catch crops and crop diversification.

The aim of the CSO is to get farmers to fill out the form as accurately as possible and having a small number of carefully thought out questions allows for a short survey.

It is also important to note that the information leaflet provided with the census outlines that the CSO may use other sources to gather information. For example crop areas can be obtained from the Department of Agriculture.

“In addition to the data collected directly from survey respondents, the CSO will also make use of administrative data provided to the CSO by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine [Basic Payment (BPS) and the Animal Identification and Movement System (AIMS)].”

Grain growers express disappointment

However, the Irish Grain Growers’ Group (IGGG) expressed its disappointment at the lack of acknowledgement of the tillage sector on the census and stated that it did not want this to be a sign of things to come in the future.

Speaking to AgriLand, the group stated that details on animal numbers can be obtained from the AIMS, similar to cropping areas obtained from the BPS, yet livestock farmers were asked to fill out animal numbers.

Chairperson of the IGGG, Bobby Miller, stated: “The old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ springs to mind straight away.

We are coming to a crucial time when it comes to Brexit, CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] reform and climate change. Tillage has solutions for all three.

“For example, it could be a rebirth for Irish grain in the milling industry here replacing tariff imposed British milling grain because of Brexit.

“The credentials of the Irish tillage sector when it comes to the policy direction coming from the EU fit smoothly, yet it is not highlighted enough by our Irish agricultural industry and farm bodies.

Tillage should be front and centre in CAP reform. We need to be increasing our tillage area and this should be reflected in the Irish CAP reform plan currently being drafted.

“When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions we have an exemplary case to make when it comes to global warming. The facts are available from the recent reports launched on tillage,” he concluded.

Is tillage falling off the radar?

While it may not be a big problem on the agenda at the minute, when major challenges such as Brexit and CAP are currently being faced, the IGGG may have a point.

Is tillage starting to fall off the radar? Many in the industry think it should be coming into focus in order to meet challenges faced.

The Census of Agriculture should be returned to the CSO by September 17 in the envelope that was provided.