Global flood of GM grain squeezes Ir­ish grow­ers hard

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COMMENT - Stephen Cado­gan

Dairy­gold Co-op was praised by farm­ers this week for its grain prices an­nounce­ment. IFA Pres­i­dent Joe Healy said many of the coun­try’s 3,000 spe­cialised tillage farm­ers are se­ri­ously ques­tion­ing the long-term vi­a­bil­ity of their tillage farm­ing, and it is re­as­sur­ing for them that the co-op’s prices were not based on the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of im­ported feed in­gre­di­ents.

He hoped other other grain buy­ers will fol­low suit. Dairy­gold said grain prices are very slug­gish, but it was demon­strat­ing its sup­port for and com­mit­ment to its grain grow­ers by pay­ing lead­ing prices, and is com­mit­ted to max­i­miz­ing na­tive Ir­ish ce­re­als in its range of feed­stuffs. It’s a bit of wel­come news for grow­ers na­tion­ally, who came into Oc­to­ber with 5% of crops still un­har­vested, due to bad weather.

That in­cluded about 30% of beans, and about 20% of straw was still to be baled.

It’s another year of low grain prices and bad weather, likely to con­tinue the 14% de­cline in the last five years of Ire­land’s tillage acreage, led by re­duc­tions in Cos Cork, Kilkenny and Wex­ford. A spe­cialised tillage farmer needs hun­dreds of acres to gen­er­ate an in­come, but is now less able to com­pete for the leased land used for 50% of the na­tional tillage area sown. Since the change in the tax­a­tion sta­tus of rented land, more and more one-year con- acre land is go­ing into longterm leases, and tillage farm­ers are up against dairy farm­ers who can bet­ter af­ford to of­fer leases of up to 15 years. Av­er­age land lease prices have in­creased by €30-50 over the past four or five years. Af­ter five years of low grain prices, also squeez­ing tillage farm­ers is the con­ver­gence of the sin­gle farm pay­ment, which hits tillage farm­ers hard­est, be­cause they have the high­est pay­ments, ac­count­ing for about 75% of their in­comes. How­ever, con­ver­gence means these high pay­ments per hectare are be­ing re­duced, in or­der to lift the coun­try’s low­est pay­ments. Dairy­gold’s grain prices of up to €160/tonne (ex­clud­ing VAT), are wel­comed by farm­ers, but is there any way grow­ers can im­prove their prospects?

Short of de­vel­op­ing a mar­ket for Ir­ish-only prod­uct, many grain grow­ers here seem to run the risk of be­ing squeezed out.

Per­haps their big­gest prob­lem is the on­ward global march of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) farm­ing.

We have about 3,000 spe­cialised tillage farm­ers, pro­duc­ing 2.2-2.5 mil­lion tonnes per year of grain, mostly used for the six mil­lion tonnes of an­i­mal feed used in Ire­land. But it is the four mil­lion tonnes of pre­dom­i­nantly ge­net­i­cally-mod­i­fied an­i­mal feed grains that we im­port from the world mar­ket which dic­tates the low grain price paid to our own farm­ers.

As in any busi­ness, mar­ket trends de­ter­mine sur­vival, and Ir­ish grain grow­ers are swamped by the ever-in­creas­ing sup­ply from the world’s 185 mil­lion hectares of GM crops. Farm­ers in north and south Amer­ica are likely to cap­i­talise on the im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity and prof­itabil­ity of GM crops by con­tin­u­ing to set new an­nual records for GM acreages.

The flood of that grain onto world mar­kets keeps pres­sure on the price an Ir­ish grower can get.

The best prospects for Ir­ish grow­ers may be in spe­cial­i­sa­tion.

Go­ing or­ganic is an ob­vi­ous op­tion. There is es­ti­mated de­mand for about 10,000 hectares of land to con­vert to or­ganic grain pro­duc­tion. How­ever, there is no Ir­ish scheme presently to sub­sidise new or­ganic farm­ers. Even with­out such a scheme, con­vert­ing from high-in­put, high-out­put pro­duc­tion to or­ganic farm­ing is a huge leap.

On the other hand, such fac­tors en­sure that the Ir­ish or­ganic grain mar­ket is never likely to be over-sup­plied. For oth­ers, sup­ply­ing the Ir­ish drinks sec­tor may keep them prof­itable, with for ex­am­ple, malt­ing bar­ley fetch­ing €15 per tonne more than an­i­mal feed bar­ley.

With drinks ex­ports grow­ing 4% per year, and 60% of the raw ma­te­ri­als pur­chased in Ire­land, the drinks in­dus­try al­ready buys about 10% of Ire­land’s an­nual grain har­vest

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.