Helen Harris: Tillage farmers can no longer accept double standards on grain imports
What is the point in traceability in tillage farming? Why do we have a grain assurance scheme? Why is the Department of Agriculture looking for every...
What is the point in traceability in tillage farming? Why do we have a grain assurance scheme? Why is the Department of Agriculture looking for every...
The weather is always a challenge in farming and at this time of the year, it can be very unpredictable.
The fine weather saw us get a huge amount of work done in the last few weeks. The crops have really taken off and we are seeing the benefit of the recently applied fertiliser kicking in.
When spring tried to get going, it was as though Mother Nature forgot about it and moved straight into summer.
With the wintry weather, we have plenty of time to get our Nitrates Plan finished and soil samples out. We need to study them for the upcoming season to see what's needed where.
We have started the harvest earlier than ever before, but I'll get to that later; first I am going to mention something topical in tillage farming in Europe.
What an unusual growing season this year has been, a long wet and cold winter followed by little or no spring and straight into summer. This meant the crops this year were stressed most of the growing season, for one reason or another.
Only last month we were looking for dry weather and now we are looking for rain. Last week thunder showers went all around us and fell as close as a mile away, but didn't reach us.
At last we have the sowing finished.
I should be writing about how the crops are doing, but we are at least a month behind with everything.
In the Chinese calendar 2017 is the year of the rooster, but I think for us it will be the year of the slug.
When the harvest finished this year, there was no sense of satisfaction. It was more of a sense of relief. I hope by the time this is printed we will have our beans cut.
It's the middle of our harvest and apart from the usual discussions about yield and quality, I also find myself discussing another issue, that may be badly affecting grain farmers - imports of lower...
We had a busy run up to harvest this year, including a lot of open days and trial plots to look at.
Farmers and agri-businesses from as far away as Russia and Kazakhstan will be sowing Irish-treated seeds processed by a new multi-million-euro plan.
As the weather gets that bit colder, there is no excuse for not getting on top of all the indoor jobs. January is also the month of conferences and it's a great time to get finances in order.
What is the price of good service? What I'm really asking, is what is the value of having good back-up when you need it?
Just as the days are getting shorter, we are getting to the end of the sowing.
Everything this year, even the Ploughing, has worked out much harder than it should be.
We eventually completed our main harvest but instead of improving, the results just went from bad to worse as the harvest went on.
During the bad weather and storms last autumn, many farmers had to abandon their cropping plans. The changing weather meant very difficult ground conditions. The same is now happening this spring.
It's hard to believe it is springtime, with such cold wintry weather lasting well into February. It has been pretty much impossible for tillage farmers to get out into fields that have been regularly saturated over the winter.
Although this is a quiet time of the year on the farm, there is a busy schedule of tillage conferences and seminars nationwide.
I took a deep breath and a big sigh of relief, when I heard the news that glyphosate is to have its licence renewed for another five years.
Thank goodness it is all over, well the harvest and sowing at least.
At this time of the year we are not only planning for harvest, but thinking about next year's crop.
Sometimes in farming, you can be so busy with the head down that you forget to look up. I felt like I was rejuvenated, after myself and Jim O'Mahony spent a day judging the Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards 2017.
We went to a meeting regarding TAMS and I think the Brexit negotiations will be easier to understand.
Although the snow drops have made an appearance, the daffodils are very slow to show themselves. I can't blame them with all the cold wintry weather. The crops are showing the signs of stress from the weather too. The fields that got the farm yard manure or chicken manure are holding their colour better than others.
In the last few years I have heard more and more about the importance of our soil. I have been to many soil workshops telling me how we need to improve the soil, both nutrition wise and the soil structure.
The Christmas tree is down and I miss the few extra lights on, as the nights are still coming in early. This is a great time for tillage farmers to plan ahead. It's not just me that thinks so.
I was really looking forward to the post, I was expecting my payment notification but when I opened the post box here was a notification to say we were going to have a health and safety inspection.
The very wet September was followed by a few very welcome dry weeks in the beginning of October that meant we were working flat out. Every tractor in the parish was out ploughing, sowing and drilling.
We took a day off, like many farmers, to head to the ploughing championships down in Screggan, Tullamore. As we travelled around and chatted with other tillage farmers there was a sense of both relief that harvest was over and concern about the low prices for grain.
We have finished our harvest for the time being. We have beans and spring oil seed rape to cut in a few weeks. I have to say that for crops that cost less than their winter cousins they look very good.
I've heard harvest 2016 being described as the perfect storm of bad yields, bad quality, bad prices and bad weather.
Most people go away at this time of year to recharge the batteries before harvest, but we have only just recovered from an incredible farm trip to mid-west USA with Irish Tillage and Land Use Society (ITLUS).
We seemed to pick the hottest day of the year to go out hand rouging weeds, from crops that we plan to keep for seed. Every crop of certified seed wheat seems to have barley through it.
Our swallows were slow to arrive this year but the starlings are making up for them. Every corner I walk around, I can hear the little starling chicks calling out for food from their parents. They are nesting in every gap and hole in the yard.
All of a sudden every field needs some attention, which all combines to make this time of year very busy.
A few fine sunny days and the farmers around the area were like busy ants out of an ant hill. They were up and down the road with fertiliser and slurry.
At last the days are getting that little stretch in them and the couple of bright days last week gave the whole farm a badly needed lift. The crops were very flat and lifeless and with a couple of good hours of sunshine they perked up and looked more alive than they have in a long time.
When everyone else is making new year resolutions, my husband Phil sees January as a time to look at new machinery.
The last month has been filled with more talk about the IFA than work. I was shocked, then angry and now I am sad. I'm sad for Irish farming and rural Ireland. In recent times I hear a lot about the fact that, as a country, we are out of the recession and everything is looking rosy again.
It is now time to turn our attention to our machinery after a hard season's work. Unfortunately, the heavy rainfall of recent days beat us to the finishing line on the spraying and we hadn't got it all completed before the deluge descended.
Harvest ran very late this year, so when we got going, we had a lot more to do in a lot less time.
Every year the harvest has its ups and downs and this year was no different. What was different this year was the length of time that it took for us to harvest.
As tillage farmers we are used to making decisions very quickly. Whether that is to cut or not, or whether it is to sell green or dried.
Harvest 2015 has started in Kildare and it's a really exciting time. The tractors and trailers are in full swing, up and down the road. The combine is in full flow and there is a great buzz around the place.
Every day is a school day for me and in the last month I have learnt, that I know very little.
The cold weather earlier in the spring acted as a natural growth regulator, so when the weather and the soil warmed up everything took off.
Tillage farmers are the group most affected by the new greening measures and three-crop rule. When we did the 2m buffer zones around watercourses, we calculated that we took about 2ac out of production to comply with the new rules.
My opening line to the All Ireland pollinator symposium in Waterford a few weeks ago was: "If farmers are part of the problem then we must be part of the solution."
This time last year when we got the results back from our soil test we were wondering what we could do to improve our soils. Not just the acidity (pH) and fertility, but the soil structure itself. Many of our fields are in continuous tillage for decades and if you keep taking from a field it becomes very important to give back.
The next few weeks are the most popular time for tillage conferences. The short days and miserable weather mean it's a good time of the year to have these gatherings.
The last few wet weeks have really made ground work almost impossible. Even on the fine days the soil was so wet that you just couldn't travel, and so-called dry days were very foggy.
The mild weather has really helped us this autumn. We finished sowing all the winter crops in great conditions. They are all up and thankfully no bare patches.
We are still doing mad hours of work and there will be no let up for another few weeks. But the good weather and the great ground conditions makes work a pleasure.
As farmers, we have a responsibility for all aspects of the business, from health and safety to accounting. We have to try and master many different skills to make our business successful.
How many years do you remember cutting barley below 14pc moisture?" I asked my father-in- law, George Harris. "Not too many" he chuckled. In fact, he never remembers it getting as low as it did this year.
Teagasc held a very informative open day on our farm recently to help ourselves and others understand what changes are being introduced by CAP reform 2015.
This is the calm before the storm for all tillage farmers. It is a very difficult time of year as all the year's hard work will be decided in a few short weeks. It is stressful in many ways but by far the hardest aspect is having to wait.
MOST of the crops are looking their best at the moment. But we need plenty more good sunshine to fill the grain at this time of the year. The winter wheat is at that stage where you think to yourself 2014 could be a good one. The winter barley is also looking good, even if it is a bit tall. I haven't a clue what way the oilseed rape will yield. But the biggest worry by far is the price. Because the price is so low we have forward sold very little grain. Not only does this mean we do not have any security of income but it also has a knock -on effect in the form of more grain to dry and store...
This time last year we were trying to help our crop recover from a very dry spring. This year, although the weather has been very mixed, the crops look great.
I love to see the swallows arriving. At the moment, they are as busy around the yard as we are. Every machine is out and working. Some not working as well as others.
Big changes are on the way for sprayer operators. That is according to Liam Dunne of the IFA. We attended an IFA meeting where he outlined some of the changes coming down the line.
This is the time of the year for tillage conferences. We have been to many of them, all around the country. As we travel around we have seen an incredible amount of damage from storms and flooding. Not just trees down, but whole fields under water.
For most tillage farmers January is a time for catching up on paperwork and trying to keep out of all this wild weather. We had a grain assurance inspection early in the month and it motivated me to start all the other office work I put off until now.
In the autumn of last year we were struggling to do soil sampling while trudging through wet fields.
This wet changeable weather is playing havoc with our spray programme. Even the temperature difference influences what products we use.
There is a great sense of satisfaction, when you hear the rain beating against the window, knowing that you have the crops in the ground.
With two brothers abroad, our family decided to have our own little gathering, for the year that was in it. When did they decide on having it? The last week of August, when the only gathering we were thinking about was the gathering in of the grain.
Harvesting is well under way at this stage. We ended up with two crops of oilseed rape in the ground at the same time because the weather changed just after we started cutting. It got very showery, so we took out the plough and one-pass.
What a fantastic July we have had. The sun shone and the crops look really great because of it. They have turned inside out since the long cold spell during spring. It was heartening to see the combine back in the field for the start of this year's harvest.
I think I need a strong cup of tea after doing all that homework. I always feel like I'm back at school when I sit down to do our costings.
Everything is behind schedule this year, but some more so than others. We have winter barley with the heads out and spring barley that is very short despite our best efforts to get it to grow.
Better late than never, eventually the crops got going. The milder weather has given a much needed boost to the crops.
What a spring this is turning out to be. We are breaking records again, this time with the cold. I'm hoping that after all the wet and cold we have had, this summer we will break records – with a lovely long, warm season. It doesn't seem to work like that though.
The sun came out from behind the clouds and it felt like we were coming out of hibernation. Every machine that had been sitting quietly in the back of the shed all winter got a run.
This would be a quiet time of the year except for the tillage meetings and conferences. I find these are extremely informative and you will always get something out of them.
This is the quietest time of the year for tillage farmers and sometimes having time on your hands is not a good thing. Firstly you start worrying about the crops, and then you start worrying about money.
The weather this spring is playing havoc with our spraying programme. It is also affecting the uptake of the fertiliser.
The recent wet and unsettled weather was actually welcome when it came. While the dry spell was great to get the fertiliser and spraying done, the crops were looking like they could do with a drink.
The whole country looks really well at the moment. I'm not sure if there are 40 shades of green as the song says, but the crops and grass fields are growing well.
This is a fabulous time of year, when everything seems to be bursting into life. It's lovely to see newborn lambs skipping around the fields and the daffodils starting to come into bloom.
Sustainable intensification could be the future of tillage farming, according to Professor Ian Crute who spoke at the National Tillage Conference in Kilkenny last Wednesday.
It was very close to being rabbit and not turkey for Christmas dinner -- but there is not much meat on a rabbit. However, the rabbits are causing problems. They are really eating one field out of it. I reckon they have done about half an acre of damage so far. One side of the field is completely bare, as the rabbits have eaten all the plants right down to the roots.
As tillage farmers, we all know the importance of doing soil samples. Or do we? You may think that you know a field by looking at it, but in reality a soil test is the only way to find out what's going on in the ground.
The ploughing is done, the seed is in the ground. The plough is all greased up to stop the boards rusting and can have a rest until next year. We just need to mind the crop for the year and hope that we will get a good yield at the end of it.
These days are long. We are up very early and are not back until very late. My company for the last couple of weeks has been seagulls and the radio. I've heard enough about the presidential hopefuls to write a book.
As I write, I can hear the hum of the dryer in the background. It has been going strong for a fortnight but its work for this year is nearly done. When we turn it off, I think I will still hear it buzzing in my head. The chaff and dust from it has blown around the house like snow.
I record the 7:55am Met Eireann weather forecast every morning. I have three weather apps on my phone, Irish weather, Met Check and Ask Moby. Unfortunately, they never seem to agree.
Next week we will park the sprayer at the back of our shed out of the way during harvest, after spraying off the wheat. The next time we will take it out will be for our new crop in the autumn.
I love this time of year. The crops look super -- fully grown but still dark green. We have finished our spraying by getting out our T3. Now, we wait until harvest.
We were lucky enough to get away for a few days last week between the spraying and fertiliser. So we headed off on the ferry to Scotland, travelling up the coast road from Troon looking at all their crops along the way.
Today I will be presented with my FETAC Health and Safety Certificate by Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Shane McEntee. I did a Teagasc Health and Safety Course last year, along with many other farmers, given by Lily Nolan.
Sometime last autumn the phone rang. It was a local sales rep asking us if we wanted to buy some fertiliser, as the price was "definitely going to rocket up in the spring". We looked at our cash flow and asked ourselves if we believed him.
We thought our diesel problems were over. During the cold spell our diesel froze in the tractor and every job that would normally take a couple of minutes took half the day.