The agriculture industry will give its verdict later this week on how the 2016 National Ploughing Championships went.
A vital factor in these judgements will be how upbeat farmers at the event were, and how much they spend on new machinery and services which they discover at Tullamore.
The farmers are more subdued this year, according to the Irish Examiner ICMSA opinion poll carried out over two weeks, starting in mid-August.
Confidence has ebbed right across the farming industry, and farmers themselves know the main reasons — milk prices on the floor, reduced cattle prices this year.
As usual, four out of five farmers in the poll are involved in livestock/cattle farming.
After a good year for Irish cattle prices in 2015, a 2016 repeat was too much to expect.
Weaker demand growth in continental EU and UK markets and a weaker pound sterling (due to Brexit) knocked the dream of two good years in a row on the head.
However, the long-suffering cattle farmer (Ireland’s most numerous farmer, with 100,000 involved in beef to some extent) is hanging on in there as usual.
The poll has been running for four years, and cattle farmers got a rush of blood to the head in 2013, with 79% telling pollsters they were optimistic.
That fell to 61% in 2014, rose to 65% last year, and has now slipped back a little to 58%.
The 2016 profitability outcome looks similar for sheep farming, with the competitiveness of Irish lamb exports in the UK market (and against UK lamb on French markets) also undermined by the Brexit related weakness of the pound sterling against the euro.
A third of farmers in the survey are primarily dairy farmers, with 2 in 5 (40%) working in this area in some capacity.
It’s the country’s most profitable farm enterprise, but milk prices continued to fall through the first half of 2016, due to continuing weak international dairy prices in an oversupplied market.
By the time the Irish Examiner ICMSA opinion poll was undertaken, the milk price had stabilised, and demand was recovering, but it was only in the last two weeks that dairy farmers gained encouragement from price rises as high as 2.5c per litre.
The late season price improvement will only have a limited impact on the annual average price, given the seasonal milk production profile.
As a result, dairy earnings in 2016 will be down by 60-80% from the 2015 level.
That leaves dairy still ahead in the Irish Examiner ICMSA opinion poll rankings, with two out of three positive, but the rise in pessimism is nevertheless stark, as the dairy optimism graph has tumbled from the 83% of 2013, 86% of 2014, and 82% last year, to 62% now.
Tillage confidence yo-yo’ed also over the first three years, from 84 to 68 to 81%, but has plummeted now to 62%.
For tillage farmers, grain prices have been low in recent years, due mainly to record levels of global cereal production, but last year’s 81% optimism of tillage farmers in the Irish Examiner ICMSA opinion poll can be explained by the record crop yields they achieved in the last two years.
Now, they are getting grain prices at least 10% behind 2015 prices. And bad weather in recent weeks added to their woes, preventing a successful conclusion to the harvest.
In fact, if the interviews for the Irish Examiner ICMSA opinion poll were repeated last week, it is likely that even deeper levels of farmer pessimism would be revealed, because September weather conditions have not been kind.
Rain has prevented harvesting, but also threatens the bonus of autumn grazing which could help dairy and livestock farmers put off the expensive and labour–intensive winter housing period.
The notable decline in optimism is apparent in respect of farming generally, but more particularly so driven by farmers working in dairy or in tillage.
The “other” category of farmers (those not involved in dairy, beef or tillage) has bumped along since 2013 with 68%, 63%, 61%, and 59% optimism.
The “optimistic or pessimistic” question was one of the 18 issues on which 526 farmers were questioned in face-to-face interviews for the Irish Examiner ICMSA opinion poll, which took place at agricultural shows in the second half of August.
Find more on the Irish Examiner ICMSA farming survey HERE
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved