5 May 1995

Scattered area is hard to manage

JIMMY Kirwen is another former Tillage Farmer of the Year. At the time he was farming 526ha (1300 acres) in a partnership. That split last year and he is now running 243ha (613 acres) 30 miles north of Dublin at Termonfeckin, Drogheda, Co Louth.

Almost the entire area is rented. "No one farm is in a ring fence and the land extends over a 10-mile-radius and eight parishes. We have to go eight miles for one field of 10 acres and deal with eleven landowners in all," he explains.

"The land rental sector is in disarray. Theres very little security of tenure, with most arable growers having to succumb to the eleven-month system."

He blames EU aid. "It is fuelling farmers to get more land. Theres a famine for land, even poor land is averaging £3000/acre." Average rent he pays is £313/ha (£127/acre).

"For us to farm under this regime is very difficult. I can honestly say theres only half the land we know well be farming next year." That makes investment difficult.

Mr Kirwens solution is to integrate his farming with a merchanting and contracting operation. Barnhill Grain stores and markets grain for local growers, dries 5,000t and stores many inputs. The merchanting business supplies fertiliser and pesticides to local growers and also offers field walking and contract spraying. The latter justifies a 24m (80ft) Sands self-propelled sprayer.

Tight cost control

Like Jim McCarthy he keeps tight control over costs – reckoning on just £65/t before land costs for winter wheat. Yields are 8.5t/ha (3.5t/acre) for wheat and 7.6t/ha (3t/acre), adjusted from the local 20% standard to 15% moisture.

Timeliness is important at harvest. Last year Mr Kirwen hired six combines to clear cereals at 24-25% moisture. It paid off. Wet weather wrought havoc on uncut crops and the resulting premium for bold grain more than covered the hire costs and drying.

Straw provides a "dramatic" market, worth £100/ha (£40/acre) behind the combine, or a gross return of £200-240/ha (£80-100/acre) where he bales.

The retirement scheme helps land mobility, but its also pushing up prices, he says. The EU scheme has been running for 12 months and is gaining momentum. It provides a £9,500 pension in exchange for leasing out the land.

"Quite a few people in the area are doing it."

For the future Mr Kirwen plans to try more break crops to allow higher yielding first wheats. Although the rotational value is lost on eleven month land, longer leases make it more feasible.