Farmer Focus: Healthy yields marred by low prices

We finished harvest here on 15 September. This was our earliest harvest for many years. After seeing most of our spring crops go down, we desperately needed some settled weather to save them.

Thankfully it arrived in early September and we managed to lift them all, although we did go through a number of crop lifters in the process.

All crops yielded much better than expected and overall I think we have had, surprisingly, our best harvest for many years. Spring barley and oats were both coming off the combine at 16-17.5% moisture and averaging 6.9t/ha and 6.5 t/ha, respectively. This is a good result for this area and most of the straw is baled up as well.

Long hours on the combine give me time to think and reflect on the industry we try to earn our living from and the hours we invest in the process. There are no luxuries such as the EU Working Time Directive for us self-employed people.

While we may have had a good harvest, prices are down about 25% on last year. Input costs have not come down accordingly and so we are left with a good harvest barely exceeding cost of production.

After all the risk, effort, investment and long hours, this fact is somewhat depressing. It also shows how vulnerable our industry is to price movements and how dependent we are on financial support from the EU.

Furthermore, any tinkering with our direct support payments and demands for rather pointless ecological focus areas and three-crop rules can have a significant disproportionate effect, particularly on farm businesses of my size.

All this leaves me wondering why we keep on growing food for a somewhat fickle and overdemanding public.

Would I advise a young person to follow a farming career? At present the answer, sadly, is certainly not.

However, farmers seem to be born optimists, so now that the fields are cleared we shall apply manure, lime, fix drains and do it all again in the eternal hope that prices next year will be better.

We never learn, do we?

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 unsuitable arable land.

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