Tillage facing 'relentless' pressure from dairying

Total area under crops down 4pc as dairy farmers dominate leased land market

Patrick Lennon, Milltown, Co Carlow sowing 20 acres of spring barley during the dry spell. Photo: Roger Jones
Patrick Lennon, Milltown, Co Carlow sowing 20 acres of spring barley during the dry spell. Photo: Roger Jones
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

While there was double digit declines in the area under wheat, winter barley and oats last year, there has been a big swing back from spring barley to winter barley this year.

The latest figures from the CSO show that the total tillage area dropped by 4pc - 10,800 hectares to 261,0000ha in the year to June 2018 - compared to the same period in 2017.

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This was mainly due to a decrease of 9,100ha (-13.5pc) in wheat, a decrease of 7,200ha (-11.0pc) in winter barley and a decrease of 6,700 ha (-27.3pc) in oats. Potato planting dropped by 10.4pc in the year to June 2018.

Bucking the trend last year was spring barley with planting of this crop up 12,200ha (+10.6pc).

Agricultural advisor Richie Hackett said that the overall decline in tillage is due to the demand for land from the expanding dairy sector.

"When it comes to land pressure from the dairy industry, it's a constant battle. Tillage farmers are under relentless pressure and there's not much enthusiasm for the likes of beans as many tillage farmers are deciding to lease their land instead," he said. "There's less and less land being ploughed up for tillage now which is bad news all round for the industry as it means we are importing more concentrates than ever.

However, Mr Hackett added that there has been a big swing back from spring barley to winter barley this year due to the earlier harvest and better variety of crop.

Drought

Teagasc crop specialist Michael Hennessy forecast that this year would see the lowest level ever of spring barley planted in Ireland, despite planting progress being made in the last fortnight.

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"There was a big winter crop uptake last year. Perhaps farmers were too quick to react to the drought conditions last year. The weather was so good last autumn they couldn't help but plant winter barley," said Mr Hennessy.

"The increase in winter barley is at the expense of spring barley. Spring barley numbers will struggle this year."

He also added that farmers are reporting a modest to high increase in BYDV.

Mr Hackett said that in many cases crops may be scorched due to the sudden downpours last week and may not actually be suffering from the disease.

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