Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Tillage Crisis: 'They walked away - they had no choice, they just gave up'

Many walked away from tillage due to low prices for grain. Pic: REUTERS/Mike Sturk
Many walked away from tillage due to low prices for grain. Pic: REUTERS/Mike Sturk

Ken Whelan

The exodus from tillage can be plainly seen from Gilbert Smyth's contracting business in Co Carlow where over the past few years eight of his regular customers have left the enterprise and put their land into grass.

"They were all 10, 15 or 20ac men and they all just walked away because of the low prices they were getting for their grain. They had no choice. They just gave up," says Mr Smyth.

"They were making a few bob from their crops but then, because of the depressed prices, they had to bring their cheque books on every visit to the merchants because they were making no money," he adds. While the small producers are mainly affected, the low grain price is working its way up the acreage ladder, he explains. "Nobody in tillage is winning," he says

Ironically, Mr Smyth's contracting work usually subsidised his tillage and beef operation in Bagenalstown. Now growers are exiting tillage and he can't see the dropout rate decreasing any time soon.

"We had endured three bad years and despite the bumper yields of last year this price depression is likely to continue unless there is major weather event elsewhere in the tillage world. And who would wish that on anyone."

He accepts that little can be done in Ireland to lift global grain prices, but he is adamant that the local merchants and the various State agencies have done little to support Irish cereal growers. The merchants are keeping the price low through cheap imports, while the sector is not helped by the plethora of regulations.


"Some of the regulations which tillage farmers have to put up with are just crazy," he points out. "The same standards do not apply to the cheap grain imports that have been shown to contain weeds of all sorts. There has to be a level playing field."

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In money terms, that means bridging the difference between the €130/t for crops this autumn and a break-even average of €180/t.

"Otherwise it won't be the 10-, 15- and 20ac men who will be leaving, but tillage farmers working on a much bigger land scale," added Mr Smyth.

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