Stephen Cadogan: Narrow weather window least of tillage sector problems

Some of the harvest difficulties for tillage farmers might have been avoided if livestock farmers and grain growers worked better together.

Instead, livestock farmers will now find it harder to acquire good quality straw for feeding and bedding this winter, because wet weather may make it impossible to bale hundreds of thousands of acres of straw.

And some tillage farmers will be forced out of the business.

Even at this late stage, livestock farmers could still play a role in reducing the harvest ordeal, by taking on crops such as sprouted spring wheat, which still can be salvaged for feed, with acid treatment, or as wholecrop, for example.

Working closely with livestock farmers may be the only way forward for many of our tillage farmers, who are easily priced out of the mainstream grain market by cheap grain from countries such as the Ukraine, which the EU takes in without tariffs.

More and more of our tillage farmers will have to give up if they depend on the EU’s open grain trading system, which has resulted in four years of low prices.

They are also vulnerable to the small “weather window” for harvesting in Ireland, which could be the last straw for many struggling grain growers this year,with week after week of wet weather.

They could be kept in business by livestock farmers who can reduce their winter concentrate feed costs by €50-80 per tonne, by buying wheat, barley or oats off the combine, and storing it with any of the available treatment methods, to make a high-energy, top quality feed for less than €190 per tonne.

The increased supply of quality Irish protein crops has even made it possible to produce complete rations exclusively made from ingredients such as wheat, oats, barley, peas and beans exclusively produced in Ireland.

And the cheapest option for livestock farmers is to buy off the combine harvester, if they have cash in hand and facilities for storing grain.

The quality of the locally grown grain is likely to be as least as good as a compound ration containing imported grain and by-products.

For grain growers, selling off the combine can underpin the grain market, and the early sale can reduce their interest payments.

There are many farm-to-farm grain trading options, from fermented whole-crop silage (no limit on the amount fed, if it is balanced properly for protein and minerals) to alkaline grain (various cereals, a wide harvest window, can be stored indoors or outdoors for up to 12 months, enhances grain protein 4-5%).

Many of these methods reduce or eliminate the expense involved in drying grain, or allow growers to cut crops early in the harvest weather window.

IFA has worked hard to encourage farm-to-farm grain trading.

Now could be a good time to renew those efforts, with growers saying their resilience of recent years is exhausted, forcing some of them to try to sell their machines on the UK second-hand market.

Farmers and politicians are calling for bail-outs for farmers hit by bad weather — and any resources available for this should be taken advantage of.

Mairead McGuinness MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament says she has received assurances from Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan that the €11m exceptional adjustment aid package from the EU could be used for the tillage sector.

But it’s a sector doomed to low prices unless the world grain crop fails, which needs a more secure long term footing.

With more than 11m cattle, sheep and pigs to feed in Ireland, surely it’s not beyond the capabilities of our goverment and farmers to organise farm-to-farm grain trading which will work for both our tillage and livestock farmers.

It may be the only hope for long-tern survival of our tillage sector.


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