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Array of inventions and stands points to good future for sector

What's new? This was my query to the limited number of stands I managed to visit at last week's National Ploughing Championships in Co Kildare.

Stand holders welcomed the new status for agriculture within the country, but the farmers themselves were mostly bemused at how important and well off they had suddenly become in the eyes of the public.

Frequent farmer comments were: "What about the cost of inputs? While the rise in cattle prices is most welcome they are only playing catch-up to where they should be."

One farmer said he sold plain bullocks in the late 1980s for 118p/lb in old money. That equates to 330.4c/kg, very close to today's price.

Right on cue, the Teagasc stand had the figures from last year's Farm Management Survey.

This reality check showed net margins from single suckling rising from -€259/ha in 2009 to -€203/ha last year. Yes, the minus signs are real. Sheep farmers were little different, with average net margins rising from -€153/ha in 2009 to -€113/ha last year. The reality is that the Single Farm Payment, Headage, AEOS, Farm Assist and off-farm income continue to subsidise production on the average Irish drystock farm.

Only dairy farmers are being left with real bottom line profits. The Teagasc survey showed that average net margins on dairy farms grew from €159/ha in the awful 2009 season to €711/ha in the more benign 2010.

The organisers of the Ploughing helped put focus on new items for both exhibitors and visitors in their New Innovations Arena, but in a wander through other stands I also encountered items of interest.

A very significant development announced at the Ploughing is the new deal on Angus-cross cattle, which has been organised by the Irish Aberdeen Angus Producers Ltd and Kepak/AIBP.

Under the new AAA scheme, existing premiums will be enhanced by an average of 23c/kg for the scarcer weeks and by 15c/kg for the standard weeks. This brings total potential bonus payment on Angus-cross carcasses to 40c/kg, or as high as €140/hd for a big part of the year. Specialist feeders should look at this package. There is a pool of more than 150,000 Angus-cross calves a year in the system, which are potentially there to collect premiums.

To get the higher bonus, the farmer has to deliver at least 50 a year and keep the animal on the farm for at least 90 days, but the weight and grade ranges are quite wide and achievable. Bulls are acceptable up to 16 months. Existing producer group premiums are payable at slaughter with the new top-ups at the end of the year.

Irish Aberdeen Angus Producers Ltd was born out of the Irish Angus Cattle Society. The Irish Aberdeen Angus Association has its own certified scheme, which it runs with Dawn Meats.

On the Angus beef project, it's ironic that such trade rivals as Kepak and AIBP can team up and Tesco and Aldi can work together, but the two Angus Cattle Societies still remain divided.

After the freeze up and water problems of last winter, I was interested in new technology shown at Athy.

Leakstop Ireland (Tel: 021 432 0020) exhibited an electric shut-off valve that can be installed just after the stopcock on the incoming water pipes. In the event of unusual flows, such as a burst pipe, this valve will cut off the water supply and send out an alarm message.

Alternatively, the system can use a sensing pad, which also cuts off the water supply if a leak is detected. The units should be of interest to insurance companies and are priced at just under €300.

Frost Free (Tel: 045 879196) was selling freeze-proof outdoor taps. The taps are fitted to an underground supply so that the tap and riser pipe from the underground source empties when the tap is closed. Apparently, this principle is widely used in America and other colder climates. Depending on the level of sophistication, units cost €119-159. There were good discounts to be had at the show.

Paul Henderson, of People-safe, based at Convoy, Co Donegal (Tel: 087 6299749), offers an accident service for people that work on their own, such as farmers. It operates via the mobile phone, which sends out a warning signal should the phone stop moving for a pre-set time. The rugged waterproof, Sonim XP3 Sentinal phone is also fitted with GPS, which will direct searchers to the exact position of the phone carrier. The phone sells for €150 and the monitoring service for €30 a month.

I was interested in Bird Control Ireland, in Cappoquin, Waterford (Tel: 058 52302), flying a kite in the shape of a hawk to scare away birds from yards or crops. It costs about €180.

Some products from France included a rechargeable battery calf dehorner, Hornup, which is placed on the horn at room temperature but instantly heats to 700C. It should treat 40 calves on a battery charge. Marketed by Agrihealth Clones, it retails at about €330.

Also from France, on the Interchem/ Pharvet stand, was the calving and heat detection monitor, costing from about €3,500. The Velphone calving detector is based on a thermometer placed in the cow's vagina, which sends a message to your mobile phone at the point of calving.

For farmers with the problem of cows getting stuck in steel cubicles, Ballinasloe-based EasyFix Rubber Products (Tel: 090 964 3344) offers an interesting plastic/rubber alternative costing about €75 a cubicle.

Many farmers shy away from using the cheaper white dosing products to control worms and hoose because of the hardship on dosing lively cattle.

The Univet stand featured an interesting angled hook dosing unit from New Zealand, which allowed the operator to insert the dosing gun into the side of the animal's mouth from about three feet back.

With all the talk of BVD eradication, I was interested in the Enfer Ireland (Tel: 045 983 800) process for taking an ear tag tissue sample, which will be assessed for BVD. The cost is about €6.50/calf. The plan is that official calf tags will carry this option of collecting a tissue sample from next year.

In the sheep section, I encountered the new Hiltex ewe, which arises from crossing the Texel ram on Mountain Blackface ewes. This looked an attractive sheep. The Wicklow Cattle Company is offering Friesian calves from Britain and Simmentals heifers from Romania as potential suckler dams.

These were some of my limited observations. Finally, I was interested in reports from the bank stands, which suggested that most of the farmer queries were about rates offered for deposits.

Indo Farming