Tillage report: Reward green credentials of farmers and tackle key challenges

The Irish tillage sector needs to address a range of key challenges and “reward” producers for the environmental credentials of their produce and land use, according to a new report from stakeholders in the sector.

The report – titled Crops 2030: A strategic plan to deliver environmental and economic stability for the Irish crops sector – was compiled by the Teagasc Tillage Crop Stakeholder Consultative Group last month.

The document highlights the fact that the Irish tillage sector faces various challenges “which currently restrict its development”.

These include:
  • Access to land and high costs;
  • Loss of effective plant protection products;
  • Climate change challenges;
  • EU policy including ‘Farm to Fork’ and restrictions on plant breeding technologies; and
  • Weak appreciation of the importance of the sector to agriculture and food.

The stakeholder group stressed that these challenges need to be overcome, not only for the tillage sector, but also other farm enterprises and processors that the sector supports – as well as “the provision of low-carbon, traceable produce”, which it says underpins the Origin Green brand.

The stakeholder group also offered a range of opportunities to expand and grow the sector in the document

“While farm viability is good with only 18% deemed ‘vulnerable’, like all enterprises, the age profile of farmers is poor,” the report notes.

To ensure continued production and to attract new entrants, the viability of the sector needs to be underpinned by rewarding producers for the environmental credentials of their produce and land use.

It was highlighted that this produce and land use “add value to the consumer products that they become part of”.

Substituting imported feed

Crops 2030 also pointed to substituting imported animal feed with “traceable, locally produced material”, which it says is a significant opportunity for the crops sector, with the capacity to expand production.

To displace imports effectively, the development and adoption of new production technology such as precision breeding and more precise crop management is essential to remain competitive.

Also the production of native feeds, which through the development of Irish Feed brand can support the marketing of beef and dairy products, needs to be rewarded through sustainability schemes or alternatives. Protein crop development needs continued support.

In terms of opportunities in the renewable energy field for the sector, the document said:

“The non-food use potential of crops such as willow, miscanthus and hemp can contribute to GHG [greenhouse gas] reduction in energy use and displace fossil fuel based building and manufacturing products with renewable fibre alternatives.

“The sector can also provide feedstock for anaerobic digesters and utilise the digestate as organic amendments to the soil. But none of these will be possible without well thought out support mechanisms.”

EU strategy

Turning adapting the sector to EU strategies, the stakeholder group noted that the EU Farm to Fork strategy has as its core principal the “development of a sustainable food system” – which it said many of the report’s initiatives align with.

Highlighting that the pesticide and fertiliser input reduction targets could be challenging for production in the Irish climate, depending on their implementation, it was stressed:

The industry will need to be agile in its response, from research through to farm implementation, and newer technologies such as precision breeding and more precise targeting of all inputs will need to play an increasing role.

“Crop production in Ireland has the scope to expand and develop, producing more food and drink products and underpinning the sustainability credentials of beef and dairy produce.

“Crops 2030 aims to support that development by outlining the potential of the sector and by identifying the actions necessary to achieve that potential.”