Up to 50% less straw in early harvest results

Early harvest results have confirmed the possibility of straw shortages
Up to 50% less straw in early harvest results
Minister Dara Calleary and Matt Dempsey of Tillage Industry Ireland at the launch of the report on the industry. Picture: Karen Morgan

Early harvest results have confirmed the possibility of straw shortages, with winter barley straw volumes reduced as much as 25% in the south, and 50% in the rest of the country.

However, those estimates were from last week, with only between 20% and 50% of the crop harvested.

Yield reports for Teagasc indicated 2.2 to 4.0 tonnes per acre in Carlow, and 3.7-4.3t per acre in Cork.

Generally crops were harvested last week in dry conditions. Grain quality looked reasonably good, mostly 64-70 kph.

Secondary growth of new shoots has emerged as a problem in spring barley.

Teagasc has advised this could delay harvesting by about six days, or require wholecrop for desiccation options where secondary growth was later.

Tillage industry lobbyists have warned Irish farming’s carbon footprint will increase if the area under crops declines further, already down 15% in the last decade and 42% since 1980.

Emissions from tillage are only 14% of dairy farm emissions and 30% of beef emissions. Tillage emissions are 2.4 tonnes per €1,000 of farm income, compared to 7.5 tonnes for dairy, according to a new evaluation of the sector by agricultural economist Professor Michael Wallace of the School of Agriculture and Food Science at UCD.

Professor Wallace said, “The most substantial reductions in tillage acreage have been in the south-east and south-west regions where crop area fell by almost 35,000 hectares between 2008 and 2018, accounting for 60% of the national decline in tillage in that period. It is likely that much of this former tillage land is now used in milk production.”

Tillage activities take place on about 10,000 farms, on 7.6% of Ireland’s utilisable farmland. The five counties estimated to have the highest tillage output are Cork, Wexford, Meath, Kildare, and Louth.

Despite declining acreage, grain output has been maintained at about 2.3 million tonnes, because of yield improvements and a shift from spring-sown towards higher output winter-sown cereals.

Almost half of Ireland’s crop output in value terms is feed cereals for livestock, 13% is potatoes, 8% malting barley, and 11% straw.

Welcoming the report, Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary said the tillage sector mainly supplies feed grains to the livestock sector, but also produces raw materials for the drinks industry, and high quality oats for food and feed markets and export. “The sector has many favourable environmental credentials and significant potential to replace imports.”

Opportunities for import replacement arise because Ireland imports about 1.6m tonnes of cereal grains annually., worth about €257m. Net imports of livestock feed materials are nearly 4m tonnes in 2017, with a trade value of €800m.

Meanwhile, the competitiveness of Irish tillage farmers is damaged by factors such as the fourth highest average land rental costs in the EU.

And restrictions on plant protection products limit the ability of growers to control crop diseases, said Matt Dempsey, President of Tillage Industry Ireland, who called for “a regulatory environment that both protects the environment and supports innovation”.

Tillage Industry Ireland has representatives from the IFA Grain Committee, the Animal and Plant Health Association, the Irish Seed Trade Association, the ACORN and FARM merchants groupings, the Irish Fertilizer Manufacturers Association, the Irish Tillage Consultants Association, and the Irish Farmers Journal.

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