Insurance hikes are driving up crop costs

Helen Harris

Helen Harris

What an unusual growing season this year has been, a long wet and cold winter followed by little or no spring and straight into summer. This meant the crops this year were stressed most of the growing season, for one reason or another.

The drought in our pocket in County Kildare has had dramatic consequences on crops.

There will be little or no straw off some crops and looking at the small heads, I don't think they are going to yield particularly well either. I can't see how they will pay for themselves.

On the spring barley, we decided to cut our losses on the final spray and just go with Bravo at 1l per ha rather than spend money on a crop that won't pay.

This close to harvest, I can do a quick tot on most of the costs associated with this years growing crop. It didn't make for happy reading.

The biggest difficulty I had, was including a price for straw. I have heard some mad high prices being offered already, by farmers to farmers.

On the other hand the mushroom factories won't give out any price, yet they can pay for imports to come in from the UK and Spain. With Brexit coming around the corner and trying to stay competitive with tight margins, I would have thought it would have made more sense to look after the local farmers.

If farmers don't know what they are going to get when they start cutting, in a year when prices are high, I think the mushroom factories are going to struggle to find straw.

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The other worry I have with imported straw is, whats in it?

If the composting process doesn't kill all the seeds, and if black grass or brome or worse comes in the straw and then gets spread across the country, will we have a serious weed problem in the spring?

When doing up the crop costs there were a couple of numbers that stood out to me.

The obvious increases in diesel, fertilisers and sprays added up, but the biggest rise that was not obvious, are the fixed costs.

Winter wheat

These costs are your ESB, phone and the insurance. I got out the Teagasc costings book to have a look at what prices they have included and in small print at the bottom I could see the difference.

In 2017 the average fixed cost was €162 per ha and in 2018 that rose to €200 per ha. I think one of the main reasons for the huge rise, is the increase in insurance prices. Most farms have a number of machines, vehicles and sheds. Even if there is a small rise when its added on to all the items, it suddenly becomes a big rise.

The other number that stood out to me is the cost of growing winter wheat. For seed, fertiliser and sprays alone, has gone over €700 per ha for us, for the first time. In 2016 it was close to this because of the high fertiliser prices, but that year we still didn't get to €700 per ha.

Another interesting cost was growing oil seed rape is gone over €600 per ha for seed, fertiliser and sprays. To cover all cost and break even, we will need it to yield almost 3 mt per ha.

This break even point is almost the same for our spring oil seed rape as we had already planted winter oil seed rape that failed. When we replanted the spring oil seed rape it should need about 2.5 mt per ha to break even but with the extra costs of replanting that is now closer to 3 mt per ha.

The winter crops are looking much better than the spring crops.

The beans went in much thicker than normal at 260 kg per ha and it looks like it has really paid off. Because they have had such a fast growing season they shot through the growth stages and look quite short but have plenty of pods.

The oil seed rape also look shorter than normal but again the pods look good and thick. We would be hoping that they may make up for the loss on the spring crops.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co. Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer.

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