EU Greening rules leave Irish tillage sector 'in danger of collapse'
The CAP Greening requirements and low margins are forcing many part-time and small-scale tillage farmers to reduce their acreage or exit the sector.
Tillage advisor Pat Minnock said the two- and three-crop rule introduced during the last round of CAP reforms was proving extremely difficult and costly for smaller growers.
He said many of those farming around the 30ha mark were either leasing their holdings to bigger operators or putting some land into grass to avoid the necessity of planting a second or third crop.
Under the new CAP rules tillage farmers with over 30ha must grow a minimum of three crops - with at least 5pc of the total area sown in the third crop - while those with up to 30ha must grow two crops.
"The three-crop rule for a farmer with 30ha means sowing a third crop on 5pc of the ground or around four acres. It's not feasible for growers, many of whom are part time, to get a contractor in to sow, spray and harvest four acres," the Carlow-based advisor said.
He said the Greening rules were compounding income difficulties in the sector for small-scale growers.
The income pressure in the sector has been reflected in a drop in sowings this autumn, according to the IFA.
Their survey found that the area of cereals sown this autumn will fall by 3,480ha (8,700ac) or 2.4pc to 141,200ha.
The main drop was in the area of winter barley. It fell 3,840ha (9,600ac) or 5.3pc to around 69,000ha.
The area of winter wheat and winter oats plantings will be largely unchanged at 59,000ha and 13,200ha respectively.
Commenting on the survey findings, IFA tillage chairman Liam Dunne said urgent action was required to support tillage growers.
"Without political intervention on a number of fronts, Ireland's tillage sector is in imminent danger of collapse, with major implications for the entire livestock sector and our world-renowned drinks industry," Mr Dunne said.
He called for the introduction of a specific aid package for the tillage sector; a derogation for Ireland on greening requirements given our difficult climatic conditions; and access to competitively priced credit to help the sustainability of growers.
However, seed companies and merchants claimed that sales of cereal seed were holding close to last year's levels, with minimal reductions being reported in the overall tillage acreage.
Donal Fitzgerald of Goldcrop said sales of winter barley seed were back 10pc, but he maintained that growers were generally switching back to spring barley or to winter oats, with the winter wheat area remaining unchanged.
Paddy O'Toole of Quinns said sowings of winter barley were back around 15pc, but winter wheat plantings were up 20pc, and winter oats up by 7pc to 8pc. Oilseed rape sowings were down 15pc to 20pc. Tim O'Donovan of Seedtech said seed sales were similar to last year. He added that crops sown this autumn were performing very well with establishment rates for winter barley of 80-90pc.
Meanwhile, Teagasc tillage specialist Ivan Whitten advised cereal growers who were under financial pressure "not to suffer in silence".
"Talk to your family, and go and meet your merchant and bank manager to put a plan of action in place," he said.
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