Farmer Focus: Finding a profitable alternative crop

Greetings from possibly the most north-western cereal farm in the UK. Our farm lies 3.5 miles south of the City of Londonderry along the west bank of the River Foyle. My family have farmed here for more than 200 years and I currently grow 160ha of wheat, barley, oats, OSR and anything else I think might turn a profit.

I am still searching for the profitable “anything else”, having tried both hemp and camelina recently. Both grew well here and I produced the product as contracted, at which point the next links in the chain promptly went bust, leaving me and others up the proverbial creek without a paddle. It is far too easy in this country to just walk away from your debts. However, as all of us farmers are born optimists, we dusted ourselves down and got on with the job, hoping for better things to come.

Some people might say I am mad trying to grow cereals in this climate, and on occasion I would agree with them, but as Northern Ireland only produces about 20% of the cereals it uses, there is a ready market for what we produce. Our problem is not growing the crop – getting it in on time and out again is the challenge.

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Last year turned out OK despite the worst spring I have experienced since I returned home in 1979. Thankfully, we had a much better summer and some pleasing yields for both winter wheat and oats, although our winter barley proved more disappointing. Bottom line is the figures added up and we managed a week on the ski slopes to celebrate! Our crops have come out of the winter looking pretty good and all have received their first topdressing to wake them up. The next job is to finish off some ploughing and begin spring drilling. It is good to get back into the fields again after a rather long and very wet winter.

Robert Moore farms on the Molenan Estate in Northern Ireland, where his family have farmed for more than 200 years. He switched to arable production in the late 1990s, away from beef and sheep. He still has a small suckler herd on non-suitable arable land.