Farm Ireland

Friday 15 December 2017

Outgoings seen as the biggest worry despite best yielding harvest for years


Michael Hennessy

Farmers participating in the Teagasc Crops BETTER farm programme agree that this has been one of the best years for tillage in recent memory. Two of the growers admitted that they easily surpassed their three and five-year averages for all crops. However, they all point to higher costs, especially fuel and fertiliser bills, which have spurred them to complete budgets for their cropping plan for the coming harvest.

The Crowleys, Co Cork

John Crowley said that this year's harvest was good but not exceptional like on many neighbouring farms. With yields of more than 4t/ac (dry) for winter wheat and above 3t/ac (dry) for spring barley, the Crowley yields are similar to averages on the farm for the past five years. However, next season was firmly in John's mind when I spoke to him last week.

"Ground is ploughing up beautifully and we are up to date with all the ploughing completed for all the autumn sowing" he says. The Crowleys aren't too worried about rain on their ploughed ground.

"It'd be unusual if we couldn't drill within a few days of heavy rain on our ploughed ground," adds John.

Having the ground ploughed early allows the Crowleys to concentrate on planting.

"We hope to have 350ac drilled by the middle of the week, with most of the wheat planted first," says John. "Our main varieties are Alchemy, Sahara and a small bit of Gravitas, while JB Diego will take up 50pc of our acreage."

The O'Donoghues, Co Meath

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The difficult end to the harvest delayed the O'Donoghues' straw baling.

"We only finished the straw this week but we were surprised how well it retained its quality," said Joe O'Donoghue.

"However, with the straw market so slow at the moment, it's a pity I didn't chop most of the straw."

Spurred by the lack of demand, Joe has swapped 4x4 bales of straw for 2t of farmyard manure (FYM) with a neighbour. The FYM is destined for a field which has not performed well over the past few years.

The exceptionally dry spell allowed the O'Donoghues to complete some sub-soiling this year.

"We felt that some of our land had taken a hammering from machinery, mostly 2-3 years ago, and this was the first opportunity we had to try to rectify the damage," says Joe. "It's a costly operation, which we don't embark on lightly, but ploughing after sub-soiling is easier."

The O'Donoghues started planting in their very heavy land in Rathoath last week.

This year's main varieties are JB Diego, Grafton and some Panorama. JB Diego was drilled at 180kg/ha (11.6st/ac), which is equivalent to 270 seeds/m2 at 75pc establishment.

As the O'Donoghues rent land, it's always a topic on Joe's mind.

"The expectation of some growers and landowners to make money next year is astounding," says Joe.

"It's impossible to rent land at sensible money this year.

"Everybody in the chain has short memories in terms of plummeting prices but the one left holding the can is the renting farmer.

"We have completed our budgets and the results show us that the money isn't in it, even at good grain prices."

The Williamsons, Co Wexford

The Williamsons have changed their cropping plan over the past few years due to work commitments in the spring and yields of winter crops over the past few years.

"Stepping back to look at our overall system has been great and it has made us realise that we can undertake the same amount of work every year for more profit and with less stress," says George.

The planning process is completed with Teagasc's John Pettit during harvest so that the Williamsons know exactly the crop, variety and ideal sowing date of each field well ahead of time.

The Williamsons have finished planting winter barely, with Cassia the main variety.

"We also planted some Volume, Leibniz and Famosa this year, partly because we are increasing our acreage and it's vital to know how these varieties will perform for us and partly for the Teagasc open day, which will be held here in June," adds George.

A good proportion of the winter wheat should be planted by the middle of this week and the main varieties are Alchemy and JB Diego. All seed is home saved and dressed.

"We like to keep our home saved seed and are happy to pay the royalties," he says.

He echoed many of the sentiments expressed by Joe O'Donoghue about rented land and the escalating costs over the past two years.

"My fuel supplier tells me that fuel has risen by 23pc this year compared to last year," says George.

As he also rents land, he is acutely aware of his costs when trying to do a deal for land and feels that it's difficult to take all the risk as a grower, even with the high grain prices at the moment.

An alternative that the Williamsons are looking at is a share farming agreement. In this case, landowners can secure more of the revenue of the farm, with the trade-off that they must share some of the risk of growing the crop.

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