Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Trucks are too heavy for fields, even if they save time on straw


Fields are harvested and straw is baled.
Fields are harvested and straw is baled.

Richard Hackett

One of the biggest pluses of winter barley production is evident as you look across the ditches. Fields are harvested, straw is baled and removed. Job done and it is still the first week August.

Take the advantage of the cleared fields now for stubble cultivation, especially for brome and wild oat control. It's also a chance to spread lime in good conditions, to apply organic manures on stubble, remove trees knocked down during the storms and get any drainage works completed.

One thing I have noticed is the amount of bales stacked in the middle of fields for loading onto lorries which are being driven directly into the fields.

Compaction is a huge issue in cereal production. A loaded articulated truck weighs upward of 25t being carried on 14 hard-walled narrow tyres. Don't ruin your land in the process of extracting the lowest value commodity you produce just because of expediency.

So far this harvest has been a doddle, with good to average yields at low moistures and clean crops that are easy on man and machine to harvest.

However, profit will be hard come by this year. The main problem all crops are suffering from is high production costs. Costs can be divided into three categories: costs that are under your control as an individual; costs that are in the control of us as an industry; and costs that are purely external and immune to our influence.

One cost that we as an 
industry have to tackle is land rental costs. While land 
rental costs are determined by the market, it's important to remember that you as an individual are a member of this market and are influencing the land price.

If conacre land is too dear and won't leave a profit, why should it be you who is taking it on to work at a loss? Often the excuse given is that the extra land is needed to spread the machinery costs. I see this as looking at the problem the wrong way around.

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If machinery costs are too high, wearing them out running them over loss-making land is not the way to make more money. Instead, it's the way to lose more money.

This is particularly the case this year. Next year will be the third year of the priming for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). If you have less land this year, your existing payment will be put across this reduced amount of land so the same payment can be claimed from a smaller area.

This will increase the payment per hectare and expose it to greater cuts as time goes on. But surely this is a better outcome than paying too much for land to spend all year working it just to lose more money? There is always someone in the area whose calculator doesn't work. When they hit the wall, they'll be replaced by someone else who'll wave the chequebook around until they have gone too. That's the way of the industry at present. Trying to beat them is a fool's errand, and its putting your livelihood at risk.

On the subject of the new BPS scheme, the Department will soon be sending out 
information on the greening and Environmental focus area (EFA) elements of the new scheme for your individual holding.

My colleagues in the ICTA have covered this new scheme comprehensively over the last two weeks in this column.

However, don't put this information on the back burner. Winter rape will be sown in the next two weeks, which means that the 2015 season has already begun. What you sow in the next few weeks is going to be counted in terms of greening and the three crop rule.

Talk to your consultant now to establish what the 
options are for your farm. Many will not have to make any 
changes, but individual cases will require significant changes to the way the farm operates. The amount of money involved is 30pc of your current payment, so start planning now to secure this payment for future years.

One related issue that needs to be discussed with the ploughman is the necessity to keep a 2m margin away from rivers when ploughing. This area cannot be ploughed or sown, and it's for Nitrates purposes.

We can argue about the minimal effect this measure will have relative to the production loss of the lost land and the amount of noxious weeds that it is going to create. However, it is the law and it will be very measureable on inspection.

Dr Richard Hackett is an agronomist based in north Co Dublin and is a member of the ITCA and ACA.

Indo Farming