Glossy brochures go up in smoke as reality bites

Helen Harris

Helen Harris

This is the quietest time of the year for tillage farmers and sometimes having time on your hands is not a good thing. Firstly you start worrying about the crops, and then you start worrying about money.

But it also gives you time to think about changes you need to make on the farm in the year ahead. Unfortunately if those changes are sheds or machines, the prices are all very high relative to the year we have just experienced.

My husband Phil does the Lotto and every time he gets into the car he tells me how he is going to spend his winnings on a new tractor and new yard. Then he repeats this process the following week when he doesn't win. That leaves me to face reality, make an appointment with the bank manager and work out what they will lend us. Only then can we decide what we will change.

There seems to be big changes in the whole machinery industry in Ireland, with new agencies coming and going. I've heard that sales of machinery are all well up on last year, especially combines. Contractors have done the bulk of the buying but farmers must also have bought a few. After the wet year we endured in 2012, many cereal growers would prefer to have their own harvester.

Relying on a contractor is very difficult when the window for cutting was so small last autumn. Contractors can't be in two places at the same time.

However, new machinery is not cheap. Some glossy brochures have already arrived. When Phil showed me a lovely looking trailed fertiliser spreader and he mentioned it was 'only' €57,000 plus VAT, I nearly fell off the chair. I used the brochure to light the fire.

We have started spring maintenance on most of our machines so this will tell us what really needs to be changed. We do most of these ourselves, except the combine which we decided to get Claas out to service this year. Normally we would do this too but with the extra pressure we put the combine under during the wet harvest we decided to let the professionals have a look at it.

We need to be sure that when we turn the key next July she is going to start without a problem. We haven't taken the antifreeze out of the sprayer yet as we haven't been able to do any spraying on the wheat or barley. We will wait and see how the ground conditions are before we decide what spray to go with.

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Some of the crops have really benefited from the mild winter up until now. Even last week we had temperatures up to 11°C. Patches that were very wet are still bare but others that looked like candidates for re-sowing this spring are now up and looking more promising.

The disadvantage of such mild weather is that it also means the slugs can multiply again. We could end up going out again with slug pellets.

Some of the fields that we had soil sampled last year we sampled again. With the amount of rain we have had, and rain being acidic, we may need to go with lime on some fields a year earlier than planned.

I was very surprised that at the end of the year statistics showed we only had average rainfall, or in some places slightly above. I thought it was a record breaker looking at how wet the fields are.

All the grain we had forward sold is now gone. Although we had forward sold at a low price we were still worried about having enough for all the contracts and having the quality.

Both quantity and quality were fine but now that we have a little bit left to sell the price is falling as brokers get out of wheat. It upsets me to think that some broker in a suit in Chicago can decide what price we get for something that we work really hard to grow.

Helen and Philip Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Email: helenharrisfarm@gmail.com

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