Farm Ireland

Saturday 23 March 2019

Pat Minnock: 'Farmers are being bamboozled by this inspections bureaucracy'

Tillage advisor Pat Minnock
Tillage advisor Pat Minnock
Kieran Keohane from Ballinspittle at the annual ploughing match at Timoleague Co Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle
Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

Field work is usually at a minimum in January and February but the mild winter meant that this January was an exception and some sowing and spraying was carried out.

While every year is different and lots can still happen before the spring proper starts. The extreme weather of spring 2018 will never be forgotten and, amazingly, the start to 2019 is a completely different challenge.

I have no doubt, as a result of last season, farmers feel they should take every opportunity that arises.

Nevertheless, even though crops are much more advanced than normal this year and are looking extremely well, it is still too early to take field actions. Seed, in my opinion, is better off left in the bag until later this month.

Advanced crops and disease will be checked if we get hard weather. Advanced crops of barley with strong tillers will have their growing points seriously affected by frost.

Tillers will be lost but will be replaced once the vegetative stage of the crop has been initiated and crops will recover.

There is always the danger that very early nitrogen, encouraging early growth, will be counter-productive as once crops enter a vegetative stage it is vital that growth is kept going and setbacks are kept at a minimum.

This is not to say that we should not be prepared for when the weather becomes suitable and opportunities might arise from now on to commence field work.

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This is particularly true for the sowing of beans, spring wheat, and - in some of the earlier areas - even some spring barley.

And nitrogen top dressing might be considered shortly on some crops particularly hybrid barley.


The last month has seen many meetings and technical seminars held for the tillage grower.

It was interesting to get the perspective of the deputy president of Britain's National Farmers' Union (NFU) at the recent Teagasc Tillage Conference and his thoughts on Brexit.

There were also some interesting presentations on crop protection chemistries and the impact of changes including the real potential for resistance to chemistry and loss of chemistry vital for efficient and viable tillage enterprises.

I also attended a food safety workshop held by the Department of Agriculture in Backweston, Dublin and, to put it mildly, I was concerned about some of the presentations made.

From the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presentation it appeared that farmers were being held responsible for a majority of the environmental problems/pollution in the country and this might be the case if you take the 53pc figure used by the EPA/Department of the Environment at face value.

However, the remainder, 47pc is also very significant, 34pc of which is attributable to municipal sources.

Over the course of the workshop this matter was not addressed until the end of all presentations when questions were raised by the audience.

Pollution and issues arising from non-farming sources such as municipal sources are a major issue and has a serious impact on farmers and their livelihoods.

The very minimum that should be provided by the EPA and county councils is a feedback to the general public and growers on the sources and types of all pollution.

I accept there are some issues with pollution and run off from farming, but the details in the information provided is not clear.

The employment of specialised water catchment advisors may help to tie down the real issues and hopefully present the true figures as no source of pollution or harmful effect on our watercourses is acceptable.

The most concerning issue to arise on the day was again brought up by the audience in the interpretation and requirements of the various agencies charged with farming inspections.

Farming/food production is a highly regulated enterprise. In addition to the DAFM inspectors you have Bord Bia, HSE, Health & Safety Authority, County Councils, and National Employment Rights Agency (NERA) inspections on many farms.

All inspections are carried out separately and can sometimes cause significant stress and concern for farmers and their families.

And while it must be stated that there are excellent inspectors attending farms who do their best to put the farmer at ease, there are still a significant few that approach the farm inspection aggressively and with the view that they have the clout to impose severe penalties.

In my experience the vast majority of farmers try to do their best by their farming activities and by the environment. Different agencies have very different requirements and not alone is this confusing for farmers, it is totally unacceptable and just adds further to stress levels.

For example, the use of PCS numbers on invoices is frowned upon by the DAFM to such an extent that it is recommended that these should not be included on input invoices.


However, Bord Bia inspectors insist that the PCS numbers must be included on invoices and, in fact, consider this a non-compliance issue.

The best that was achieved at this meeting was an agreement by both parties "to look at the issue".

Finally, an excellent presentation was made on food safety issues and incidences of diseases such as salmonella and listeria in food of non-animal origin.

Few of these incidences have arisen in Ireland, but, it is right to highlight the risks without scaremongering.

That said, the presentation was enough to put me off ever becoming a vegan!

Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA.

Indo Farming