Wednesday 28 September 2016

'We want to be price makers instead of price takers'

The Zurich Farming Independent Tillage Farmer of the Year, Noel Delany, is aiming to deliver his grain direct to potential customers

Published 26/08/2015 | 02:30

Tipp top: Tillage farmer of the year Noel Delany pictured on his farm in Fethard, Co Tipperary. Photo: Steve Humphreys.
Tipp top: Tillage farmer of the year Noel Delany pictured on his farm in Fethard, Co Tipperary. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

The idea to deliver feed rations direct to the gate of farmers was hatched as grain prices began a downward slide.

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Tillage farmer Noel Delany began thinking about ways to bring added value to the quality grain they were producing in the land around their hillside home in Fethard, Co Tipperary.

The new business venture they set up last year was sparked after his son Gavin (20) began exploring the best ways to add extra value to grain in Cork as he studied agri-business in CIT.

After discussing the idea with farmers in the area they realised they had a readymade market on their doorsteps.

"We want to get more money out of what we have. We can't expand," says Noel, as he sat at the table in their farmhouse overlooking the vast fields of Coolmore Stud in the valley below.

"We want to be price makers instead of price takers - whereas up to this we sell to the co-ops and we just take whatever price."

At the rear of their farm, they are surrounded by dairy herds, yet it is precisely those expanding cow numbers on their doorsteps that they are hoping to target.

"We're trying to get added value out of our own operation. We've bought oats off of local farmers and we'll be taking in grain and beans," says Noel, who runs the business with his wife Claire, and son Gavin (20), while his daughter Kora is studying commerce at UCD.

"The quota is gone and the beef industry is looking better and they need to feed good quality local grain. It is to get this mindset - most fellas think they'll go into the local co-op and get their nuts in there. It is an all in package. A lot of what they are getting is imported products like palm kernel, soya hulls, citrus pulp and another product, pollard, which is just what is left over after the milling industry.

"We want to produce it local and cut down on the carbon credits as well."

He stressed that crimped or rolled grain was a much better package, when combined into a ration.

"We have barley, which is a super product, wheat for higher energy and then oats is high in fibre and in oil which is good for pre-calving dairy cows."

After just getting the new grain retailing operation in place late last year, Noel described it as a "slow burner" to get farmers to change over from nuts but he stressed those with diet feeders are seeing the advantages of the quality stock.

"Last year we sold 400t of feed locally and we only started off. It was just word-of-mouth," he says.

"We can make up a ration there for them and they can mix it in their diet feeders and they have a super product," he said.

"We have already begun doing crimped barley. We're doing Alkagrain - it is a home n' dry product.

"You crimp the barley and add soybean and urea. You mix it in with it and the moisture in the grain helps to release the urea.

"It goes into a pit and you seal it. It is sealed for three weeks and the urea disperses through the product and it brings up the protein by 4 to 5pc. We did that in our yard and hauled it to the farmer." However, he said with other farmers they ensile on site.

"You have a full dairy or beef ration there at 15pc with barley or wheat - you don't have to add any more to it. It will cut down the costs."

Noel says the basic home n' dry product is costing about €33 a tonne and it costs €12 a tonne to crimp. He says combined with barley at around €130t it delivers a high-quality product.

"It is ready to feed out of the shed after three weeks."

However, in addition he says they also sell dry rolled oats or barley, and can combine it with beans to bring in extra protein.

Detail

It is the attention to detail in his operation from the weather to the marketing of their straw that won Noel the Zurich Farming Independent Tillage Farmer of the Year award.

"You need to be a financial controller, a mechanic, an accountant and a weather predictor and a soil scientist as well. You need to be a Jack of all trades. You need to know about grain storage and drying," he says of the skills required.

As the adage goes - 'A wet and windy May fills the barns full of corn and hay'.

"We had 250ac of winter barley and it yielded around 4t/ac and the quality was excellent. It is all dried and stored. It is going back to the weather," he says, with the harvest starting 10 days late.

"Pre-harvest we thought the crop didn't look great but the grainfill period was slow," he says.

"There is 100ac of winter wheat to harvest. It is looking very good - from what wheat has been cut already in earlier parts of the country it is going to yield well.

"The winter oats is all harvested at 3.8t/ac of excellent quality coming off the combine bushelling 55kph. Most of that went to Flahavan's for the porridge," he says.

"The variety is Husky and it produces a good quality grain. We have 70ac of winter oats.

"We bought in oats off of local farmers which will go for the feed. We have 20ac spring oats and some 30ac spring barley which are not quite ripe," he says, with varieties Volume, Leibniz, Cassia and Tower of winter barley.

"Both Volume and Leibniz were the best performing this year," he says.

They sold barley to Redmills and 100t Cassia winter barley to Glanbia for roasting for Guinness.

"In the next couple of weeks there is a lot of planning and plotting to be done when the reports come in the Department of Agriculture and I can get on to Seedtech and Goldcrop and get first information on what varieties are doing well. We'd always follow that."

They tried min till but still opt for traditional ploughing and they chit all the seeds to try weed out the sterile brome.

"With good ploughing you are burying it back down. The guy on min till is leaving all that stuff there on top."

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