Total grain output this year to ‘drop from 2.3 to 1.9 million tonnes’ due to the drought

Outputs from the cereal sector in Ireland are expected to reduce by at least €100 million this year, following the effects of the prolonged drought.

That’s according to Teagasc, which forecasts that total grain output this year will “drop from the normal 2.3 million tonnes to under 1.9 million tonnes”.

Teagasc says that the drought has “severely affected crops in the eastern half of the country”.

Straw yields are also predicted to reduce – by nearly 25%. Teagasc says that 1.6 million fewer (straw) bales will be available in the country this year.

The drought is also affecting livestock farmers, with grass growth severely affected in these areas.

Teagasc says that many of these farmers are already feeding some of their winter forage stocks – to supplement grazed grass and concentrates. Consequently, it says, there will likely be a higher demand for forages this autumn with knock-on effects for prices for feedstocks such as straw.

Records broken

Records were broken at many Met Éireann stations in the east of the country. This spring was reportedly the driest since records began in 1837 at the Phoenix Park. There was less than 10mm of rain, just 15% of normal, recorded for May at Dublin Airport. This followed just 23% of normal rain for April.

Michael Hennessy, head of Teagasc Crops Knowledge Transfer, said that the drought had hit at least one month earlier than in 2018. This affected crop growth much earlier in the plants’ growth cycle, thereby reducing yield much earlier in the season.

Crops further south are less affected by drought, but the recent rains are needed in these areas too. Farmers with beans and potatoes and other later-harvested crops will certainly welcome this rain, as it will help to maintain or increase the yield potential.

Shay Phelan, Teagasc potato specialist, said: “Potatoes got off to a great start this year. However, early frost damage was quickly compounded by very dry conditions – forcing farmers to irrigate crops much earlier than normal.

Irrigating potatoes

“Irrigation is a huge cost for farmers. Each pass is estimated to cost €250/ha. There’s a huge cost in terms of man-hours to actually carry out the operation.

“Most fields will need six to seven irrigation passes this year – not only to maintain quality but also to maintain acceptable yields,” he added.

“Most farmers do not have sufficient irrigation capacity to cover all of their potato crops. They are encouraged to concentrate their efforts to adequately irrigate a smaller number of fields, rather than cover the entire area with an insufficient amount of water.”

Conor O’Callaghan, a Teagasc advisor in Dublin, said: “The loss of income to tillage farmers will be severe in many cases. These farmers have substantial financial commitments, including employees’ wages, loan repayments and other overheads. We can’t forget that this is their family income for the entire year.”