The groundswell of tillage farmer anger over TAMS 2 grant scheme won’t go away

When the tillage sector was largely ignored in the TAMS 2 grant scheme launches in 2015, it was the last straw for hundreds of crop farmers.
The groundswell of tillage farmer anger over TAMS 2 grant scheme won’t go away

The schemes make grants of up to 60% available for buyers of hundreds of items of equipment on dairy, beef, sheep, pig and poultry farms.

But the glaring omissions were grant aid for tillage farm equipment such as on-farm storage handling and drying or processing facilities for grain,low drift sprayer technology, and state-of-the-art yield mapping technology for precision farming.

It was a slap in the face for the tillage sector, because nearly every tonne of grain harvested in Ireland needs drying — and not even a mobile grain drier was included in TAMS.

There was an angry groundswell of reaction from farmers. As a result, a scheme of investments for tillage farmers is included in the Government’s formal amendment to the Rural Development Programme, currently under negotiation with the European Commission.

What comes out of that remains to be seen. But what won’t go away is the anger on the ground among tillage farmers, led from Co Cork.

Co Cork tillage farmers Jim O’Regan, Kinsale; Anthony Collins, Killeagh; Dan Joe O’Sullivan, Bandon; Jerry Donovan, Ovens; and Leonard Draper, Ballineen have led a campaign which 223 of their grain grower colleagues in Co Cork have signed up to — designed to ensure that tillage farmers are not forgotten.

They have sent delegations to meet Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, General Election candidates, IFA leaders and presidential candidates, and the media.

Jim O’Regan says the group believes the tillage sector is not only being poorly represented but is discriminated against compared to the dairy and beef sectors — and colleagues from other parts of the county are falling in line behind the group, to work together to improve the lot of tillage farmers.

Their feelings of being frozen out are understandable when difficulties in tillage in recent years are considered.

They interpret the omission of tillage equipment from TAMS as blatant discrimination, putting grain growers at a competitive disadvantage — just when they needed extra help, to cope with greening in the CAP reform.

This made growing crops away from the home farm much less efficient, and therefore problematic for most tillage farmers.

In one farmer’s example, greening requires two different crops to be grown on 50 acres share farmed away from the home farm.

That means two or three trips with the sprayer, fertiliser spreader, combine harvester and balers, to cope with the growth patterns of two grain crops.

And the inefficiencies are multiplied if it’s a bigger piece of land which requires three different crops, in the EU’s greening rules.

Greening will accelerate the downward tillage income trend since 2010, with Teagasc predicting the average tillage farmer losing €25 per hectare after all costs are paid in 2016.

The real income crisis is in tillage, say the Co Cork crop growers who saw Irish dairy and pig farmers share a €500m crisis bail-out across the EU — with nothing for the Irish tillage sector, still struggling to come to terms with the loss in 2006 of its most profitable crop, sugar beet.

Then came a ban on autumn ploughing which imposed extra costs.

Tillage farmers fear they have been “forgotten” by the co-ops and by IFA.

The Cork tillage group says IFA would be happy to see tillage farmers kept at subsistence levels to provide cheap feed for the dairy and livestock sectors.

Even farmers who purchase their inputs from the co-op are paid nothing extra for above average grain; leaving no financial benefit for producing barley above 64 bushel, seen as an “average” crop.

The Cork growers say they can’t get a fair price because co-op boards are controlled entirely by dairy farmers.

Still, tillage farmers played a vital role in the country’s best performing export sector in the 2015 results recently announced by Bord Bia — beverages, with export growth of 10% last year, to €1.26 billion.

And the Cork-led group wants Teagasc to help them farm even better, with a “Moorepark” for tillage.

The fight back by tillage farmers is already paying off, with independent election candidate Alan Coleman responding to their plight by calling for producer organisations, which beef farmers can now join to strengthen their position in the market, to be extended to tillage farmers.

Himself a farmer, mainly in milk production, Coleman says he has had to reduce his tillage acreage because of its “dismal” financial returns.

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