And if I transgress, can I expect the level of tolerance from the Department that I have to give them?
Brigid’s Day tomorrow is the official start of spring. For me, as a Kildare man, she feels more like our patron saint than the Welsh fellow so I’m glad to see her honoured at last with her own holiday.
Among her other accomplishments Brigid is believed to have been a brewer, so let’s kiss Dry January goodbye by raising a glass in her memory.
In moderation, a glass of beer is very good for you, and if it is locally brewed and supporting jobs in your community it’s even more virtuous.
We have had a couple of turbulent farming years, and there’s more of the same on the way. Not all the change has been bad and I am acutely aware of our privilege every time I look at the news.
Grain prices are back a lot on 2022 peaks but are still at historically high levels. Which is just as well as inflation is creeping, and sometimes rampaging, into all our costs.
Fertiliser and fuels have started to drop but, while doing last year’s accounts, I was struck by how universal the price rises were. It is clear there is a certain amount of profit-taking across the industry and I am not confident this will reverse.
Turnover is vanity and profit is sanity. My margins on crops were similar in 2021 and 2022, as higher grain prices last year were absorbed by higher costs.
My approach for this year will be to buy wisely and use carefully. How to sell is another matter; they say it is hard to catch a falling knife.
No matter how closely production costs are watched it is impossible to know the cost per tonne until you see how many tonnes are harvested. This makes it hard to follow the standard advice to sell where you see a profit.
Global carry-over grain stocks are very low, and with no early resolution in Ukraine likely, there may well be attractive prices available during the year. But we are learning how quickly these prices can also drop.
With the imminent arrival of BISS, CRISS and ACRES, the word ‘omnishambles’ could have been coined for the changes in rules and regulations that are spewing at us. It should not be a surprise that some farmers are considering going off-grid.
While I’m not quite at that stage, I am very frustrated by the lack of consequences when deadlines are missed by regulators compared to farmers.
I applied for ACRES last autumn and as I start to feed and spray crops now in spring, I don’t know if I have been accepted.
I have applied to put margins around fields that already have winter crops in them and others that are to be sown in the coming weeks. I don’t know if those margins will be deferred where there are already crops established.
So if I sow, spread and spray the proposed margins I may have wasted time and inputs and could also find myself in breach of regulations. Can I expect the level of tolerance from the Department that I have to give them?
Enough hand-wringing for today. I’m enjoying more daylight with the odd blast of sunshine and a chorus of birdsong morning and evening. And I am looking forward to Brigid giving me an excuse for a beer.
At this time of year it’s not hard to be intimidated by the challenges of the coming season, and getting out and meeting people nearly always helps. The effort of going to the events that are now live again is worth it, even when it is hard to overcome the inertia of the last couple of years.
Studies of ageing populations have concluded that an active social life is a key factor in physical as well as mental health. A social life is built on layers of interlocking communities: family, extended family, neighbours, friends, colleagues, sport, church, etc.
Individually, they are fragile but they support each other and give strength and resilience to our sense of who we are. We are lucky to live in a free and peaceful society. Let’s make the most of it.
Andrew Bergin is a tillage farmer based near Athy, Co Kildare