Tillage industry faces difficult winter in the wake of storms

Quality of grains will not be good enough for premium drinks sector
Tillage industry faces difficult winter in the wake of storms

Storms have affected the size of the harvest and the quality of some of the grains. Picture: PA

A substantial amount of crops were flattened by Storms Ellen and Francis — but the foul weather also affected the quality of some grains to the extent that they have been given the thumbs-down by the premium drinks industry.

Tillage farmers all over the country face a long, difficult winter due to the recent appalling weather which, as tillage specialist Ciaran Collins explains, affected not only the size of the harvest but also the quality of some of the grains.

There are about 10,000 tillage farmers around Ireland, 5,000 of whom specialise in tillage — and because the industry is worth an eye-watering €1.3bn per annum (and supports some 11,000 jobs) to the Irish economy, any downturn in the sector will hit not just the exchequer, but local economies throughout the country.

The financial implications of the recent storms for the sector are quite serious, he said.

“Tillage farmers have one annual payday — which is the harvest — and now it has been seriously affected by the weather,” he said.

The Teagasc tillage expert, who is based at Moorepark, Fermoy, explained that farmers tend to schedule repayments on high-cost agricultural machines around this time of year, using the proceeds from the harvest, but now cash flow has been reduced.

On top of the fact that fewer tonnes of grain have been produced this autumn, the sector is also getting a lower price for its products, as the storms have also had a negative effect on farmers’ access to the highly lucrative drinks industry. Every year, Irish farms produce in or around 300,000 tonnes of cereals for the whiskey and beer industry.

“This is a premium market, and what has happened this year, as a result of the weather, is that some of the grain has not reached industry standards,” Mr Collins said.

“This is a second knock for farmers — they have not only lost some of the harvest to the weather, but also thanks to the weather, some of their crop has been deemed to not meet the required standards of quality for the drinks sector.

“They would normally get a higher price for these grains than they would get for the grain that is used for animal feed,” he said, adding that the problems being experienced by some growers in reaching drinks-industry standards this year was significantly higher than normal. As a result, beer and spirits producers will have to import grain from other parts of Europe.

A study carried out by Teagasc in late August showed that the high winds and heavy rains caused by the two storms resulted in damage to crops with many falling over — in some cases it was estimated that yield losses reached more than 20%.

Less than half of the spring barley crop had been harvested while only about 30% of winter wheat had been harvested. The south of the country experienced exceptional yields of spring barley — but here too, the storms had had a strongly negative impact.

As a result of all of this, Mr Collins predicted, cash flow would be a problem for many farmers this year, and Teagasc was strongly encouraging producers to seek help from their local advisers on everything from financial analysis to budgeting.

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