Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Sell grain now to profit from prices

Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

THE WINTER barley harvest is now complete. In addition, the good news this year is that prices continue to strengthen. Green barley (at 20pc moisture) is now making €130-140/t. This is a vast improvement on last year's prices. However, a yield of 2.8t/ac (excluding straw) is still required to break even on owned land. One midland grain buyer has contracts for a €10 premium for Saffron for the premium feed market.

Winter barley yields have been variable from 2-5t/ac. While averaging can hide a multitude of issues, it is safer to think about the average yield rather than the top yield when making decisions for next season.

In my experience, over the past few years, it is easier to obtain average yields of 3t/ac from spring barley (gross margin excluding straw of €98/ac) than 3.3t/ac from winter barley (gross margin €68/ac) -- and at these yields and prices, spring barley will offer a better margin.

Winter oats harvesting started promisingly before last week's rain, with many growers achieving yields of 3.5-3.8t/ac, with kph at 53-58. The high prices anticipated earlier in the season -- due to the Canadian situation -- do not appear to have materialised yet with prices quoted between €115 and €130 at 17-18pc moisture.

Some later crops, and especially those affected by the bad frosts, have struggled to reach 3t/ac. Delayed harvesting of ripe oats will increase the likelihood of poor colour in oats, so every opportunity to harvest oats should be taken -- even at relatively high moistures.

Winter oilseed rape harvesting is around 30pc complete and early indications of yield is excellent at 1.7t/ac up to, and even more than, 2t/ac. With prices of €330-360/t, this crop should be considered by most growers for next year. Its value as a break crop is immense: 1.75t/ac of winter oilseed rape at €350/t will leave a margin after materials and full contractor charges of around €240/ac excluding straw. There is some interest in rape straw at the equivalent of €40-50/ac.

However, these returns will not be achieved unless crops are sown early. Planting should begin from August 15 and not extend further than September 10.

The spring barley harvest is also well under way, with good progress made in the south east. Early reports are mixed, with some good yields of more than 3t/ac.

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Some early-sown winter wheat crops have been harvested in parts of the country. Yields of up to 4.8/ac -- after potatoes -- have been reported in east Wicklow, with yields of 4.2-4.5 tonnes after oats. In the southern part of the country, many crops are now ready for harvesting, while in the more northerly half, most crops are now ready for desiccation -- if required.

I would recommend growers to consider selling a portion of their harvest now. Up to €175-180/t for dried wheat and €162/t for dried barley (September/October payment) is on offer.

Don't expect to be able to sell all your grain at the highest price. Prices fall as well as rise. Hedge your options and tie in one-quarter to one-third of your harvest at these prices.

The wet harvests of the past two years appear to have caught up with us. Some of the poorer crop yields can definitely be put down to the wet harvests and poor soil working conditions of 2008 and last year. This is even more pronounced after fodderbeet harvests. Winter barley, in particular, will not perform if soil conditions are poor. Wheat and oats are much more forgiving. Once the harvest is over, sub-soiling must be considered in many cases.

Irish Independent