Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Spring seed sowings could fall 10pc as grain prices slump

Many merchants believe farmers will be reluctant to leave ground fallow.
Many merchants believe farmers will be reluctant to leave ground fallow.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Seed suppliers believe spring sowings could be back by 10pc due to a combination of increased winter cereal areas and farmers deciding to leave land fallow.

Harvest 2016 prices of €115/t for green barley have pushed the breakeven levels for spring barley to over 3t/ac. The calculation includes straw sales of €35/ac.

As a result more and more farmers are planning to leave ground unplanted this spring, according to Ferns agri-merchant Peter Bolger.

"Any marginal ground will be left unsown or be taken into bird seed areas for GLAS. I see farmers more on top of the sums, and getting more comfortable with the idea of leaving land fallow," he said.

However, other merchants believe that most farmers will be reluctant to leave ground fallow.

"I can't see farmers leaving ground unsown," said Liffey Mills' Pat Ryan, despite the fact that he estimates that the spring barley area will be down 20pc on last year.

"Autumn plantings were up, so we'll probably be down 10pc overall in grain. But I see a lot of land still being converted to grass in the southern half of the country, and probably more fodder beet being grown too," he said.

Spring beans are experiencing a surge in popularity, especially in the northeast, as farmers seek out alternatives.

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"We're seeing a lot of farmers look at beans because they've done well for the last two years, and it provides a good entry for winter wheat back into the rotation," explained Drogheda merchant, Gerry Curran.

Mr Bolger said that the wet conditions at harvest had compromised a lot of home-saved seed, which contributed to a 30pc increase in bean seed sales.

However, some merchants were cautioning on the potential for beans to turn around tillage farmers' fortunes.

"There's probably too much being sown because beans are too expensive compared to brewers grains to include in rations, so it's going to have limited uses," said Mr Ryan.

All merchants reported a 10-20pc increase in the area of winter barley being planted.

"We've seen a jump of 10-15pc in winter barley because it's basically out-yielding winter wheat in recent years. Most guys are still using six-row varieties but the hybrids are getting more popular all the time," said Mr Curran.

Spring planting has only commenced on the driest of land, with less than 25pc of the spring area planted in Wexford.

Maize does not appear to be gaining any ground from the drop in spring plantings, due to tighter spending from dairy farmers and the realisation by contract growers that rolled barley needs to be close to €180/t before maize becomes competitive.

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