‘Weak appreciation’ of tillage is sector’s main challenge

One particular comment in the Crops 2030 report published this week stood out.

Among the challenges facing the tillage sector was reported to be a “weak appreciation of the importance of the sector to agriculture and food”.

It is one of the most disappointing and factual statements written in a tillage report – and there have been many tillage reports over the past number of years and even months.

It is a statement that will resonate with tillage farmers across this country – a feeling of after thought and lack of understanding of the tillage sector frustrates the industry.

In Ireland, we pride ourselves on our Irish dairy, beef and drinks products, but more effort needs to be made to make these products fit the label through the use and support of more Irish grain.

Something needs to be done before it is too late. Tillage has a lot to offer in terms of native and traceable grain, as well as its environmentally friendly credentials. However, it is not without its challenges – and this is evident as Harvest 2020 is now a salvage operation across the country.

This season’s low yields of grain and straw; low grain prices; poor grain quality; and difficult working conditions are making it an extremely tough season for all concerned.

But the sector must be supported in order to stop a decline in tillage area.

The agricultural sectors need to work together. Land could be freed up if more slurry and animal manure was taken in by tillage farmers; if forage crops were grown by tillage farmers. Both parties can benefit and work together.

But tillage farms will not thrive and the arable cropping area will not remain at the same area or increase if basic supports are not provided to young farmers or if policy decisions hold back the sector.

One thing that was disappointing from what was a comprehensive report was the lack of focus on young farmers which are scarce in the sector and are vital to its future.

Is it to be left on the shelf?

The Crops 2030 report brings forward a total of 54 recommendations. It is a detailed report which analyses individual crops and sectors, but is it to be another tillage report left on the shelf?

The report suggests organisations which could take responsibility for the recommendations and put them into action, but will this happen? Will these organisations be brought together? Will the tillage forum return?

One example of a recommendation is the development of an Irish feed brand. It has been talked about for a number of years and a similar proposal was placed among the 35 recommendations in the report compiled by the Joint Committee on Agriculture in 2017.

Now, almost three years on from the release of that report, that logo or brand has not yet been developed.

Some mills have taken it upon themselves to release their own Irish feed, but a national approach has never been taken.

It is now time for action. Action from farmers, industry, politicians and consumers.

Tillage reports are great – as long as they don’t sit on the shelf until the next one comes out.