Arable farmers must embrace new tech or risk being overtaken

Arable farmers across Europe need to embrace new technologies or risk slipping further into the shadow of low-cost producer countries such as Brazil, one consultant has said.

Genetically modified crops, precision farming, min-till systems and hydrogen power all needed to be embraced by farmers in Europe if they were to remain viable and be able to catch up with large-scale producers overseas.

Speaking at the annual Nuffield Ireland conference in Killkenny this month, arable consultant Mr Hughes, who also farms carrots and daffodils with his father, said producers in developing economies such as Argentina had slashed costs while increasing production levels.

Meanwhile, producers in Europe had been forced to focus on short-term environmental protection rather than investing in technology that could produce more food while impacting less on the land.

Presenting his study, Innovation and technology in crop production, Mr Hughes said: “In Argentina, costs are aggressively stripped out of the business – they don’t have to pay to dry, store and haul grain. Their costs are €19/t (£16/t) whereas ours are €41/t (£34/t).

“These producers are our competitors, but in Ireland and the rest of Europe we are so high-input we are making a market for them. We need to get our costs down.”

Mr Hughes said European farmers were “paying the price” for direct support through the Common Agricultural Policy and that, particularly in Ireland, subsidies were detrimental to arable production. “We are losing out on a huge amount of technology being given to the rest of the world and we working in an insulated environment,” he said. “We have lost focus and it’s all about the environment,” he said. “Farmland is finite and people need to eat. There are low-cost producers out there we need to compete with.”

Europe had half-heartedly looked into GM crops, but if it wanted to keep up with the rest of the world it needed to look more closely at the technology, Mr Hughes added.

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