It's a good time for decisions on conacre and successor issues

Pictured picking daffodils at his farm at Castlelack, Bandon, Co Cork, was farmer Brian Perrott and his son Hugh (6). Photo: Denis Boyle.
Pictured picking daffodils at his farm at Castlelack, Bandon, Co Cork, was farmer Brian Perrott and his son Hugh (6). Photo: Denis Boyle.
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

While this is a quiet period for field work, the time should be used wisely to make farm plans, not just for 2015, but for the next five years. At this stage all the relevant information is available to allow you to make an informed decision.

Despite the risk of repetition, it is worth repeating that the lower of the area of land farmed by you in 2013 or 2015 will determine your number of entitlements for the next five years. The value of these entitlements is determined by the money you drew down in 2014. The higher the value of your entitlements the greater the convergence, or reduction, in your entitlement value. The issue you now need to address is the area and cost of your conacre. If you declare conacre as part of your land bank in 2015, and if your total land area this year is not more than your 2013 declaration, you are effectively tied into this conacre for the next five years.

This is a problem if you are unsure of any land and loose any in 2016 - you will then lose the associated entitlements. If your conacre is not making money, then you be taking a double hit.

If you decide to continue as before this is your choice, however the option will not be available in 2016 to make the relevant changes.

I have heard of all the reasons why farmers do not wish to give up on conacre and to be honest none of these stack up financially. If you continue to be tied into land on a one-year basis, only to lose it any time between 2016-2019, you may find that the cost to replace this will have risen substantially.

There is also a big opportunity at the moment to set up a successor, such as a family member who is under 40 years of age, with a Level 6 qualification and an off farm income of less than €40,000 in either 2013 or 2014.

The applications for the National Reserve opened on Monday, January 5. If a young farmer sets up this year they can obtain up to €314/ha of the area farmed, subject to certain conditions. The young farmer may obtain this land from their own sources, such as family members, or rent land from neighbouring farmers.

These lessors (excluding parents) can also benefit from the attractive tax free income from long term leasing of land. This opportunity is therefore very attractive for both the young farmers wishing to commence farming and the older farmers wishing to give up farming.

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Back to the more mundane technical tillage issues. Now is the time to get your soil results and do up your fertiliser plan for the season. There is much talk of even higher fertiliser prices in 2015 so nutrient management planning is never going to be more important.

If your fertility level is high enough you can reduce your fertiliser bills, but you need to have soil analysis to make this decision.

Crops are generally looking very well for this time of year. There has been little or no damage, especially to winter oilseed rape. The most obvious damage evident in fields at the moment relates to rutting or tram-line damage. This was caused by farmers trying to apply herbicides in less than ideal conditions. Unfortunately, this rutting and tracking in fields will now remain for the rest of the season. If crops have not yet received their herbicides this can be delayed until conditions are suitable. There are a variety of suitable chemicals to apply when conditions are more agreeable.

The only crop to be considered really at the moment is beans. There is an attractive subsidy of €250/ha for growing this crop, and it has the added benefit of satisfying your greening requirements. The input cost for this crop can be cheaper (€435/ha) compared to spring barley at €480/ha. Assuming contractor charges of €375/ha for beans and €405/ha for barley, and a projected harvest price of €160/t for beans and €140/t for barley, a yield of approximately 5t of beans will give the same return as approximately 6.3t/ha of spring barley. If the subsidy is included the equivalent return can be achieved with a yield of 3.46t of beans. Yields of up to 7.5t/ha are achievable from beans sown early and in good conditions.

It is preferable to sow beans in February or early March at the latest. Seed is particularly scarce so make sure to order immediately.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA.


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