French import cost exactly half what the concrete equivalent would have set me back as we improve our slurry storage in response to tightening regulations
Have you noticed how much of your life has become enslaved to dates and schedules? If it’s not the phone pinging you to remind you about that meeting or to get bread, it’s texts and emails about a raft of looming dates that could make or break you.
It’s the ones that farmers are apparently supposed to instinctively know that are often the source of most stress.
How many weeks have we got before all ploughed land has to be sown? When does the hedge-cutting season end? Which one of the new slurry spreading dates applies to my farm?
Then there was the date by which we thought we had to have straw incorporated, until the Department decided to change the rules about five minutes before the deadline.
There’s cut-off dates for chemicals that are going off the market, best-before dates for the fertiliser that you sold your children to buy, and switcher dates for your utilities that will otherwise rob you blind.
There’s a load of other dates too, of course, and they’ll also cost you an arm and a leg if you don’t comply.
The date to have your taxes filed is seared into most sole-traders’ heads from the moment they are weaned. But there’s the equally important deadline to have your Farm Payment application completed.
And that’s just one of the cut-offs that govern every scheme that farmers are in various states of dependency on.
When I started writing this I didn’t realise that there was a whole article in the dates that rule and ruin our lives. What I really wanted to talk about was the latest big investment that we’ve undertaken in my dairy partnership with my neighbour Joe Leonard.
It has been driven by the shorter window for spreading slurry and parlour washings during the winter months.
The 10pc levy on concrete announced in last week’s Budget will have a lot of farmers scratching their heads about the best way to tackle this.
Not only will the concrete be nearly double what is was costing a few years ago, it could well be obsolete in 10 years’ time if circumstances change.
With this in mind Joe concentrated on a less conventional slurry storage option, in Ireland at least.
We wanted about a million litres of additional storage, which would have cost at least €60,000 to build from concrete.
That was before a lid was added, which is likely to be a requirement for all slurry storage in the future.
The other option of putting a cover over the existing lagoon sounded like it had to be cheaper… but in keeping with the price of everything else, it wasn’t. And it would have been a pain in the arse to maintain, agitate and empty.
So Joe hit on the idea of a slurry bag from France, where they have apparently been working trouble-free for over 30 years. It requires a lot less paperwork, has a minimum life-span of 20 years and can be rolled up and resold if the goal-posts shift radically during that time-frame.
Perhaps we got a little over-excited, because we ended up buying a two million litre bag, but with the way the rules are going, we figured it might be the most prudent approach.
There was about a week of prep-work required before the bag arrived. Although it can be filled to 1.6m high, and only measures 50x26m, the total area required is still close to half an acre when all the work is done. That’s a big enough patch to carve out, especially if there’s any bit of a slope involved.
I never noticed the slope in the paddock that suited until the digger started into it. By the time it was finished, there was a 2m-high bank of soil all around it.
But this will provide a good solid bund around the perimeter.
Then there were five loads of fine grit to spread out to ensure that no part of the bag would have lumps or stones sticking into it.
There is some pipe-work to channel the parlour washings into it, along with a suction point for the tanker to hook in when we are emptying it.
In addition, there are a number of agitation points around the bag where the contents can be circulated to ensure it is well mixed.
This is maybe the Achilles heel of the concept. No solids or crusty bits can be put into the bag, since they might never come out again.
Cost? €56,000 for the bag, and call it another €4,000 for the site-work. Which is exactly half of what the equivalent in concrete would cost.
And hopefully that’s another batch of rules sorted for another couple of years at least.
Darragh McCullough runs a mixed farm enterprise in Meath, elmgrovefarm.ie