For the past number of years, ‘dairy; dairy; dairy’ has been pushed in front of farmers and all parts of the agricultural sector. And, to a large extent with good reason.
It has been the most profitable enterprise. We can usually produce dairy products efficiently and we currently have markets for these products.
However, a dairy industry is never going to survive on its own in this country and this harsh year has driven that message home.
No matter what yours truly attended, read or listened to in the past number of years – either at a Macra meeting, IFA (Irish Farmers’ Association) meeting, a Teagasc publication or a politician – the gist of the message was generally ‘go into dairy or get out’.
It seemed like dairy was the only show in rural Ireland.
One young farmer event – intended to enthuse and help young farmers in all sectors – saw an IFA deputy president (dairy farmer) and the head of the National Dairy Council sit at the top table. The message to attendees was that the only way to make money in this country was to grow grass.
Well, this year no matter how good you are at grass management, the majority of the dairy stronghold cannot grow grass.
My response to the dairy preachers at these events was that everyone can’t be a dairy farmer. And, not only can everyone not be a dairy farmer, but not everyone wants to be a dairy farmer.
As the extreme weather of 2017/2018 continues to linger on and farmers struggle to keep fodder supplies up-to-date, it seems like the agricultural population that were stuck in the dairy hype are beginning to realise that everyone can’t be a dairy farmer.
What’s more, who they considered to be the poor relation in Irish agriculture – the tillage farmer – is now finally being realised as key to the industry’s success.
Over the past number of years, the tillage area of this country has declined and government and farm bodies did nothing to stop this. The area sown to tillage decreased by 10,000ha from 2016 to 2017.
As straw now rises to €35/bale in places, it will not supply the demand that is there across the country and the importance of the tillage sector is well and truly apparent.
As dairy and beef farmers turn to tillage farmers for maize, beet and wholecrop – and Teagasc promotes working relationships between the two – the importance of the tillage farmer is now being appreciated.
Our environment will thank the tillage sector for lowering Irish agriculture’s carbon footprint and those who have a nitrates derogation will need to put their slurry somewhere in the future.
Foreign grain is now going straight from the boat to the farm; how does Origin Green fit in with such an approach?
Not only are we not feeding Irish grain, but – at this stage of the game – ‘local’ supplies have ran out and we must travel further than the UK and Europe for feed.
Where the dairy farmers will travel with slurry and how much will be paid for straw if the tillage area declines further remains to be seen.
By: Siobhan Walsh