Farmer Focus: Irish cereal growing future uncertain, according to Philip Reck

The future of cereal growing in Ireland is facing an uncertain future.

Grain price futures are still a long way off what farmers require to make cereal growing profitable, and their volatility make it next to impossible to prepare realistic budgets for crop production. The possibility of making savings when budgeting for a high yielding crop are small.

An increase in grain prices makes a far greater impression on the margin than skimping on inputs that are already fine-tuned to the needs of the crop and the pressure put on it by weeds, diseases and pests.

Realistic fertiliser and land rental prices dramatically improve margins as long as the base price for grain is at a realistic level in relation to the cost of production.

Ireland has the capability to produce high-yielding crops with exceptional quality. But our volatile weather has made it increasingly difficult to achieve the higher yield potential of newer grain varieties as well as dramatically reducing grain quality and returns.

Producers were able to produce 7.5t/ha of spring barley 20 years ago, albeit only a small percentage of crops realised this yield. Nevertheless it was achievable, and we are still using it as the benchmark for a good crop, while inputs and fixed costs have increased exponentially.

Soil samples results have shown P and K indices are surprisingly high with a lot of the land requiring no potash. Incorporating chopped straw has helped maintain these levels, and along with minimum tillage and incorporating crop residues helped keep organic matter levels well above the recommended levels laid down by our legislation for land in continuous tillage.

Timely establishment of spring crops and favourable weather will almost certainly be required to help farmers improve the yield potential of crops and hopefully return profits.

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