FO­CUS ON THE WICK­LOW COUN­TRY­SIDE Farm­ers hope for a bet­ter year ahead

Wicklow People - - NEWS - By DEB­O­RAH COLE­MAN

WICK­LOW’S AIB agri-ad­vi­sor Liam Phe­lan has shared some in­sight for the farm­ing com­mu­nity into the months ahead, say­ing that while plan­ning ahead in the sec­tor is not an ex­act sci­ence, there are cer­tain fac­tors to be con­sid­ered.

Mr Phe­lan, pic­tured be­low, said that 2019 will largely de­pend on pre­vail­ing weather con­di­tions, global sup­plies and trade ne­go­ti­a­tions.

‘Dairy com­mod­ity prices, although weak­ened some­what in re­cent months, should re­main rel­a­tively sta­ble in the short-term, help­ing limit any re­duc­tion in on­farm milk price cur­rently re­ceived. The out­look for the beef sec­tor will be im­pacted more than most by the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, while for ce­re­als, sheep and pigs, their fate will largely de­pend on global sup­plies. Over­all at this stage, 2019 looks set to be an­other mixed year for the sec­tor,’ he says. With just a few weeks left in 2018, is is hoped that 2019 is a bet­ter year all round, a year, ir­re­spec­tive of farm sys­tem or lo­ca­tion, which will be re­mem­bered for in­creased ex­pense, stress and work­load.

‘On dairy farms,’ he says, ‘ milk price has re­mained rel­a­tively strong and is likely to av­er­age around 35c/l (solids ad­justed) this year com­pared to 37c/l in 2017. Out­put held up well, even dur­ing the drought af­fected sum­mer months, and to the end of Septem­ber milk in­take by cream­eries was up by 1.2 per cent. How­ever, the in­creased in­put ex­pen­di­ture as a con­se­quence of the weather will put down­ward pres­sure on dairy farm in­comes this year.’

Mr Phe­lan says that a more chal­leng­ing mar­ket­place in the cat­tle sec­tor will im­pact in­comes this year.

‘While fac­tory prices were run­ning ahead of last year for the first half of the year, this was fol­lowed by a price re­duc­tion in July and Au­gust and cur­rent prices are now on a par with 2017. Through­put is up by about 2 per cent to date this year – driven by a large in­crease in cow through­put, which is up 7 per cent. What is ob­vi­ous in the sec­tor this year is the price vari­a­tion in marts be­tween qual­ity and plainer lots.’

He says that there’s a sim­i­lar story in the sheep sec­tor, where prices in the first half of the year were well above 2017 lev­els. How­ever, prices de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly from the end of May on­wards, and are now on a par with 2017 lev­els. It was a year of mixed for­tunes too for the tillage sec­tor, he says with was a big in­crease in out­put prices recorded – to over €200/t in the case of bar­ley, up around €60/t on last year, driven by a re­duc­tion in global stock lev­els for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year.

‘This price in­crease, com­bined with in­creased straw prices were negated by a re­duc­tion in yields – par­tic­u­larly for spring crops. Mar­gins in the sec­tor are ex­pected to be at sim­i­lar lev­els to 2017 – but with sig­nif­i­cant vari­a­tion de­pend­ing on crop mix and lo­ca­tion,’ he says. Com­ing off the back of the high­est mar­gin-over-feed lev­els in over 10 years, Mr Phe­lan says the pig sec­tor en­dured a very dif­fi­cult 2018, with cur­rent prices run­ning 14c/kg be­low 2017 lev­els and feed prices on the rise, marginover-feed is at its low­est level in 30 years.

‘Over­all the good weather dur­ing Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber has helped some­what, keep­ing stock at grass; win­ter crops sown and es­tab­lished (it is es­ti­mated that the area un­der win­ter ce­re­als is up al­most 30,000 hectares on last year), and also pro­vid­ing the op­por­tu­nity to con­serve ad­di­tional win­ter for­age sup­plies, mean­ing win­ter fod­der deficits have re­duced some­what on many farms. The lat­est Tea­gasc fod­der cen­sus es­ti­mates sug­gest that, de­spite the favourable con­di­tions, one in three farm­ers still have a fod­der deficit (av­er­age -15 per cent). The ad­vice to those in deficit is to put a plan in place and take ac­tion early. ‘Hop­ing’ for a late win­ter/early spring, in it­self, isn’t the most con­vinc­ing strat­egy to rely on,’ he says.

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