Ireland is likely to have to increase its grain imports in response to crop damage caused by unrelenting rainfall over the past three months, particularly in the south of the country, says Cork-based Teagasc tillage advisor Ciaran Collins.
The Moorepark-based crop expert said that Teagasc will probably have to downgrade its projection of Aug 3 that overall 2012 national cereal production would total 2.3m tonnes by the end of the year. Even that projection amounted to a 9% output reduction on 2011, despite the fact that overall acreage devoted to cereals has increased by 3.6% from 296,000 hectares in 2011 to 315,000 h/a in 2012.
“We may have to increase our imports, which would normally be around 1m tonnes,” said Mr Collins. “The condition of the ground is the biggest problem. If farmers can travel on the land, then they will cut. They can judge that themselves, so there isn’t really a lot of advice we can give themon that front.
“What we definitely do know is that yields are down, and quality has suffered. With winter wheat, for instance, the big issue is an increase in Fusarium and other ear diseases as well as sprouting. There is also a lower bushel rate. The issues are very similar to 2009.”
Tillage farmers are facing critical decisions on whether to harvest crops with a high moisture content now or take their chances and wait for a break in the weather.
For most, ground conditions will dictate that decision. The lower crop quality is now almost taken as an unavoidable consequence.
The latest Teagasc estimates show that 80% of Irish grain remains unharvested, versus the 20% which would normally be still uncut at this time of year. The choice of whether to cut now or wait is a choice which each farmer will have to make by taking their own specific local circumstances into account.
Ciaran Collins said that 40-50% of spring barley has now been harvested. Yields two to three weeks ago were good, but we are seeing a fall off since. Many crops are in the 2–2.25t bracket. Crop quality is a big issue. Low kph is the big issue, with majority of samples in the mid-50s; ideally they would be above 62kph.
Mr Collins said: “My advice is to cut at every available opportunity even at high moistures if this weather continues because quality will deteriorate further.”
The IFA Ireland’s national grain committee chairman Noel Delany said that many growers face significant financial losses, and national grain production will be at least 500,000 tonnes short of crop potential, due to bad weather reducing grain fill, shedding, and straw breakdown.
He said: “What had looked like a bumper 2.6 to 2.7m tonne grain harvest six weeks ago could quickly turn into a salvage operation if the weather does not take an immediate turn for the better.
“Less than 6% of spring barley and 1% of winter wheat had been harvested. Parts of many, if not all, fields may be left unharvested.”
Meanwhile, the global grain harvest is also significantly reduced. The latest International Grains Council (IGC) report notes that devastating droughts in the US and Russia have also crippled global grain supplies, with stocks of maize notably falling to a nine-year low of 120 million tonnes.
This smaller global crop is likely to result in a drop in consumption in 2012/13 for the first time in nearly 20 years. The US Mid-west has suffered its worst drought in 56 years and the IGC cut its forecast of the US maize crop by 25m tonnes to 275m tonnes, bringing it broadly into line with the current US Department of Agriculture estimate.
The IGC suggested that these global shortages have heightened fears of a food price crisis on a scale last seen in 2008. Wheat output from key global supplier Russia is now seen slipping below levels in 2010 when drought destroyed crops and sparked a surprise ban on exports.
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