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Monday 21 August 2017

Bumper harvest for grain but no gain for consumers

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Grain farmers are anticipating one of their best harvests in years, thanks to record yields, good prices and favourable weather conditions.

However, consumers are unlikely to benefit from cheaper food and drink prices as a consequence.

The reality is that most Irish grain goes for animal feed rather than bread, while malting barley accounts for just a fraction of the cost of a pint of Guinness.

Even though July was one of the coolest on record, there was enough intense sunlight for cereal crops to thrive.

"The cool summer temperatures extended the crucial grain filling period for cereal crops by an extra week," said Jim O'Mahony of the farm advisory service Teagasc.

He predicted that yields could top the previous record set in 2004 when winter wheat averaged 10.4 tonnes per hectare.

"It's early days yet with only 20pc of the harvest complete, but there's a huge yield out there to be harvested if the weather stays right," Mr O'Mahony said.

The fact that grain prices are on the rise globally will more than cancel out any benefits that might come from higher grain yields in Ireland.

Like all commodities, grain prices have strengthened amid stock-market uncertainty, giving cereal farmers double cause for celebration this year.

"It's grand to be working in good conditions with good prospects for the crop," said Pat Lowry, as he started harvesting his malting barley crop at Timahoe in Co Laois this week. He estimated that his crop yields are up by almost 10pc on last year.

The prospects of a good harvest are also fuelling the sale of combine harvesters.

Tonnes

Sales of the €200,000 machines have trebled this year compared to 2010.

Over the coming weeks, these machines will cover nearly 300,000 hectares as they hoover up over two million tonnes of grain. Over 90pc of the Irish crop goes into animal feed, with the remainder used in malting and for milling.

The last number of years has been a roller-coaster ride for the cereal sector, with many farmers close to exiting as recently as 18 months ago.

"Thousands of the remaining 15,000 growers were virtually going out of business after the combination of bad weather and prices in 2008 and 2009," said Mr O'Mahony.

However, their fortunes have recovered over the last two years, with prices increasing by 83pc.

Irish Independent

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