Farmers face growing uncertainty on prices for this year's grain harvest

File photo. Pic: REUTERS/Mike Sturk
File photo. Pic: REUTERS/Mike Sturk
PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

With the harvest just about to start we are facing considerable uncertainty on what we are likely to receive for grain. Last year some received up to €205/t and that same grain today is only making €175/t.

Most merchants still have more barley in store now than at the same time in previous years. While the sown area to spring barley is 77,000ac less than last year, the area of winter barley is up 60,000ac; winter wheat is up 11,000ac; spring wheat is up 300ac.

The area of winter oats is up 6,000ac with spring oats down 700ac on 2018. However, the oat acreage in 2018 was considerably down on previous years and the 2019 area is similar to the average of the previous four years.

If we achieve a national average yield of 10pc less than the Teagasc target yields we should have a total harvest of 2.17m tonnes.

That would be 350,000t more than last year but 200,000t less than 2017. This year's 18,000ac of beans and 22,000ac of oilseed rape is considerably down on previous years but they are the two crops which will leave growers with the highest margins this year.

Unfortunately, domestic production and consumption have very little impact on what grain growers receive. Global grain harvests and global grain trader sentiments decide our prices.

Recent market reports show that wheat prices dropped last week with the forecast that US corn sowings were 7pc higher than expected.

On top of that while yield predictions for the EU and Russian harvests have been cut back, it is still likely that the overall yields will be 20m tonnes higher than last year.

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With such uncertainty it is difficult to give an indication as to what grain will make this harvest but merchants are indicating that up to €140-€145 will be got for green barley at harvest and a further €10 for wheat.

We can only hope that they are talking the price down.

The prospects for cereal straw look good, with many growers indicating that most of their straw is already booked and that prices will be similar to those of last year.

Our prices are yet again going to be determined by cereals produced in countries that do not have equivalent standards to those which Irish growers are required to meet.

We appear to have little control over international trade deals, but we do have control over what we buy.

As individuals every farmer has the right to choose to refuse to buy imported grain and grain produced from GM crops, and to continue to do so until such time as imported crops meet EU standards.

However, to make such a strategy viable at least part of the increased costs will have to be met by the consumer.

Vegans

We are already seeing increased interest among consumers in organic product and an increase in interest in vegetarian and vegan diets.

We need a strong marketing campaign to show the standards to which we produce and to highlight permitted practices in countries from which we import.

We need to put legislation in place which will allow a label to effectively state: 'This product may have been produced with the use of chemicals/ unsustainable practices/lack of traceability not permitted in Europe.'

The future for all agricultural produce is dependent on food being produced to an acceptable standard and the scientifically-based opinion is that the acceptable standard is the EU standard.

Farmers and consumers are entitled to expect that the feed/food presented for consumption meets the EU's scientifically determined specification.

Strict standards, rigidly enforced, are needed to protect our food quality and to maintain consumer confidence.

No farmer should have to run the risk of producing high quality food and run the risk that it may be confused with produce that damages human health or the environment.

Finally, it is important to note that all pesticide products used in the EU have a 'use up' date after which they are not permitted on crops.

If such products are present on the farm they should be stored on separate shelving marked to note that they have expired and held for disposal by licensed facilities.

You should carry out regular checks of your chemical store to ensure all product is within use period and segregate when necessary.

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