'Every day of bad weather reduces our crop margins'


Mark Browne
Mark Browne

Ken Whelan

Mark Browne used the fleeting few days of warm weather earlier this month to play catch-up on preparing his 200-acre farm in Caim near Enniscorthy.

"We had about 40pc of the work done up to May 4, but we should be alright by June," he says.

"It has been all smash and grab down here because of the weather. It's been very difficult. We are at least six weeks behind," says the lifelong tillage man, the fifth generation of the Browne family to farm what he describes as "good Clonroche soil".

To put the time loss in context, Mark should have been 100pc ready to go in April but now he hopes it will be full steam ahead.

"Every day of bad weather reduces the margin on spring and malting barleys, and oats," Mark points out.

And margin, he says, is uppermost in the mind of tillage farmers these days.

In simple mathematical terms, tillage farmers are down nearly 20pc on their crops with no movement on the prices expected for the foreseeable future.

"We're down in price by half a tonne for every 3.2 tonnes," he says which works out at around 17pc but then you have to add in increased input costs, he says.

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Mark, who wears his second cap on the IFA's grain committee, says that a fair proportion of Irish tillage farmers are now considering their position and looking at the attractions of changing their main farming enterprises.

However, Mark (44), who took over running the farm in 1996 after completing his Green Cert with Teagasc in Enniscorthy, is in for the long haul with tillage.

He and his wife Clare have a young family - Aoife (14), James (12), Noel (10) and John (8) - and Mark is not for turning on tillage and intends to persevere despite the battles ahead. Most of his spare time is taken up with grain committee meetings where he sees at first hand the problems facing the sector.

The two problems uppermost in his mind and the minds of his fellow tillage farmers are the upcoming CAP negotiations and the knock-on effects of Brexit - not least the possibility of more crop dumping in Ireland. He was on the latest farmer protests in Drogheda and Foynes where two boatloads of inferior crops from Britain were being landed.

"Farmers were shocked by the state of the stuff being landed. Low spec, and low quality stuff. It was shocking. Obviously the stuff was left in a gain shed and then it was transported to the boats to be dumped in Ireland."

It's a practice we could see more of if the Brexit negotiations do not have a proper outcome here, Mark believes.

More worrying to Mark is the current levels of EU farm payments to Irish tillage farmers which he says are already down over the past few years to 85pc of their original value and it looks like the new CAP could see a further decline in the value of the payment.

Any further downwards pressure on the farm payment will only further damage the sector and create an exodus from tillage. As things stand, Mark says, there are quite a few tillage farmers ready to change enterprise and unless the Government maintains this payment at its current level, at least, then tillage men will just leave the sector.

Mark happily admits to having no great off-farm interests apart from an a low -level passing interest in GAA and rugby. His time is simply divided up - the farm, rearing the family and farmer activist with the IFA.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

Indo Farming

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