Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Tillage: Harvest 2016 is a serious reality check for many in tillage sector

James Hughes inspects his crop of onions ahead of harvest near Julianstown, Co Meath. It is the first Irish onion crop being specially grown for Aldi
James Hughes inspects his crop of onions ahead of harvest near Julianstown, Co Meath. It is the first Irish onion crop being specially grown for Aldi
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

I've heard harvest 2016 being described as the perfect storm of bad yields, bad quality, bad prices and bad weather.

It has brought a lot of farmers back to reality as regards profitability. I don't know how any tillage farmer can afford high rents this coming year. Every weather forecast for the last six weeks must have included the phrase "scattered showers".

We haven't started our wheat but when checking to see if is it fit, we can see that the grains are very varied. That is the word I would use for a lot of crops this year, varied. The fields are uneven and the grain size is very mixed.

The barley was very varied as well. Some parts of the field were particularly bad especially the wet areas, and others were very good.

On average the six row (Meridian), which did very well for us last year, was way back this year at 3.4t/ac. Last year it was close to 5t/ac. The two row (Tower) did better at 3.8t/ac at 66kph.

If you take the Teagasc figures of winter barley growing costs, they calculate it to be approximately €494/ac. I believe that this is a very accurate figure, if you include all your costs properly.

However at €135/t by 3.8t/ac this comes to €513, less €494 to grow it and we are left with €19/ac on owned land.

Most farmers are not getting €135/t, at the moment its closer to €125, and I certainly don't agree with the IFA that €135 is a fair price.

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I will ask the same question that I asked earlier: how are farmers going to pay the high rents?

The Teagasc figures also have winter wheat at €540/ac to grow, so at €135/t we will need 4t/ac just to break even. Oilseed rape costs are €487/ac and at €370/t we will need 1.3t/ac to break even.

These are very worrying figures but I don't want to jump the gun. We haven't sold anything forward this year. Although Phil kept waiting for the price to rise a little bit, it kept going in the other direction.


The upside is that we can dry our grain and put it in the shed and hope the price does rise later in the year. But there is nothing to say that the price won't fall further too.

We have sprayed off the oilseed rape and it is looking very close to being ready. The same can be said for a few of the wheats. I think once we start they will all come in one after another. Then we will have a gap before the spring oilseed rape and the beans.

The next dilemma we will have is picking seed for next year.

Do we try to save some money by using home saved seed that might not be great? Or do we buy certified seed which is expensive, but may germinate better?

We also discovered that the varieties that did very well last year did not do as well this year, in particular the Meridian six row barley and the Weaver winter wheat.

Do we give them another go and hope for the best or do we change and go with newer varieties? We test all our home-saved seed for germination. When we get the results this will help us to make up our mind.

I read in last week's Farming Independent that a farmer in south Tipperary was able to get €40 a bale for an 8X4X4 bale of straw. I wish we could get a price like that in Kildare.

Another item I noticed is that we shouldn't cut our hedges until the end of August.

How do we keep hedges under control and have our oilseed rape planted by the third week in August?

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

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