Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Greencore growers in Westbury protest

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Calls for a total boycott of Minch Malt were rejected at a growers meeting in Carlow last week, but farmers are to protest in Dublin today outside a Greencore EGM at the Westbury Hotel.

The EGM is expected to ratify the sale of Minch and Greencore's British and Belgian malting businesses to French giant Axereal.

Confirmation that Minch will not renew malting barley contracts for more than 600 growers prompted the boycott call at the Carlow meeting.

There was an angry farmer response to the Minch Malt decision, particularly since many growers had not been contacted by the company.

Talks are continuing between Minch and the IFA regarding the allocation of the new contracts, a fixing of the price and the issue of a 'goodwill' payment for those farmers who have lost contracts.

It had been suggested that four criteria would determine the allocation of new grower contracts. These were the quality of malting barley delivered in the past, credit risk, location and viability.

But speakers at the meeting claimed contracts were being issued on an arbitrary basis and the absence of transparency in the process was criticised.

The withdrawal of contracts from smaller producers also sparked an angry response. "Is the cutting out of the small man being accepted by the meeting?" one angry speaker asked.

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"The 50 or 60t supplied by a small grower is as important to him as 500t is to a big man. We have 630 hardship cases. Either everyone grows [malting barley] or no one grows it."

But others pointed out that one third of the seed had already been delivered to growers, and policing a boycott would be difficult and divisive.

The meeting was also told that growers who lost contracts can appeal through a disputes resolution mechanism, which is being established by Minch.

On the issue of price for this harvest, IFA officials said Scottish growers had secured €143/t and this was now the benchmark.

No details were outlined on the 'goodwill' payment to exiting growers, but it is understood that the IFA has sought the equivalent of five years of the average malting barley bonus, or around €150/t in total.

Meanwhile, indications from the seed industry are that spring seed sales for grain are back by almost 40pc. With many farmers using saved seed this year, it is estimated that total sowings will fall by 30-33pc, which equates to a drop of between 51,000ha and 56,000ha.

The credit squeeze is also having an impact, with merchants refusing to give credit where debts were not cleared last season. The fall-off in sowings has put pressure on seed prices, with deals being done as low as €365-380/t.

The area sown to winter barley is up 40pc on last year's figures, says the latest Teagasc crop report. Some 25,000ha of winter barely was sown by farmers for this coming harvest.

But this increase was balanced by a reduction in winter oats and wheat sowings, maintaining the total area of winter crops close to last year's levels.

Farmers planted 50,000ha of winter barley and 5,000ha of winter oats in total.

Virtually no spring crops have been sown yet, except limited areas of oats, wheat, malting barley and beans.

Irish Independent