Tillage: Volatility is the only constant in grain trading

The Smyth sister Ava (5) and Jane (2) and Aine Keogh (9) pictured with some of David Keogh's Brussels Sprouts at Macetown, Tara, Co Meath. Photo: Frank Mc Grath.
The Smyth sister Ava (5) and Jane (2) and Aine Keogh (9) pictured with some of David Keogh's Brussels Sprouts at Macetown, Tara, Co Meath. Photo: Frank Mc Grath.
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

The strong winds and wet weather of the last week has surely put a stop to sowing for this year.

This is a good thing as seed is now better off in the bag than struggling against all the likely problems in a poor seed bed, including water logging, slugs, birds and aphids.

While temperatures over the last few weeks have continued to remain high and above average the level of rainfall has meant that all field work is difficult or impossible. Met Eireann records show that the mean air temperature for the summer months of June, July and August was above the long term average (LTA) and they also show that the rainfall during the summer, while variable, was also above average.

In October the mean air temperature also remained above average but it was the driest October in at least five years with approximately two thirds of the normal rainfall. This has led to a major increase in autumn sowings.

November is however making up for this dry time with the result that most field work is now complete for the year. In addition to challenging sowing and early growing conditions the need for higher seed rates required just added to costs.

Most crops have been sown in good conditions and are reasonably well established. This will help many crops to survive in fields that are more prone to flooding.

Farmers would now be better employed in the office doing the paperwork. This is the time to analyse yields and returns. Particular focus should be concentrated on costs.

Unfortunately there is very little you can do about the end price, except keeping a close eye during the year on the futures market and opting to sell some of your grain at a few different times during the year to minimise the risk from selling all your produce at the one time and probably the worst time of the year when everyone else is in the same market.

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To help you do this and have confidence in selling early you need to have a good handle on your costs. If you can work out the price required to leave you an acceptable margin then you should be ready to press the sell button if and when that price is reached anytime during the year.

There is nothing surer but that the one constant in grain trading is its volatility.

Therefore it is highly likely that at some stage during the year your target price should be available, even for a very short time.

Don't be tempted to wait for the next rise, invariably that does not happen and prices slip back again quickly. There are many good sources of information on prices and many merchants regularly offer good futures price indications.

These are worth staying in contact with on a regular basis. Growers should not budget on similar yields to this year.

Higher yields are always a bonus but this should be for your pocket and not included as a gamble. The one area where farmers have total control is in the taking of conacre. This is the one area I and all my colleagues fail to grasp or understand - what drives farmers to pay such outlandish prices knowing the likely returns possible? Equally incomprehensible is that these prices are now being transferred into long term lease prices also.

In addition to analysing your 2015 costs and returns now is also a good time to clearly set out your plan for cropping in 2016. Again you now know what you have planted this autumn and have some idea of the remaining crops you want to grow. There are no changes to the greening rules for 2016.

This means that for farmers with more than 10ha of arable land two crops will be required and for those with more than 30ha there will be three crops required.

Again the obligation is to have 5pc Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) for growers with more than 15 hectares. Why not meet with your agricultural consultant or advisor over the next month and effectively complete your 2016 BPS application in draft format.

This will leave this task extremely easy next spring when you can concentrate on the outdoor work and not have the worry about dealing with such an important piece of paper. It will also allow your advisor to spend more time discussing options and providing quality advice when he/she is not under so much pressure.

In particular all farmers should examine their LPIS maps and now seek to amend inaccuracies. Some of the major hold up in payments in 2015 was the need for re-digitising maps, over claims and dual claims.


The continuing very mild weather in November, despite the winds and rain, mean that aphid numbers are still high. The aphid traps erected by ITCA members show quite an amount of aphid activity. Crops that were sown in September and were treated with Redigo Deter should have also received one aphicide in October/early November.

For crops not treated with Redigo Deter a second aphicide should have been applied or needs to be applied immediately. If this mild weather continues aphid activity will continue however heavy rainfall will minimise the likely effect.

If weeds have not been controlled at this stage they should be left until the spring unless you can travel without leaving tracks.

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

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