Farmer Focus: Greening rules will make farmers extinct

Milk prices here in Northern Ireland are sitting around 27p/litre and with talk of further reductions to 24 or 25p/litre, it’s hard to try and write something positive this month.

With our current cost of production sitting at 30.2p/litre, this low price will only be bearable for a few months. However we are not alone, with both the beef and cereal sectors also experiencing low returns for their hard work. This is part of the problem with farming and as primary producers we find ourselves being price “takers” instead of price “makers”.

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Then to add further frustration we now have to obey new “greening” rules as part of the new Single Farm Payment scheme. The three elements to greening are: permanent grassland, crop diversification and ecological focus areas (EFAs).

As we fall under the category for more than 30ha being in arable, we now have to make sure we grow at least three different crops on the arable land. Then to further complicate things, the main crop cannot cover more than 75% of the land and two main crops no more than 95%.

It must be great to be that person stuck behind a desk somewhere dreaming up these silly rules, with no idea how a real farm operates. The carrot for us is 30% of our SFP, although we have also been told that it should help encourage two nearly extinct types of bee. This reason got quite a laugh at a recent DARD [Department of Agriculture and Rural Development] meeting held to try and explain the finer details of the new scheme.

As my father says: “If they continue to make life harder the only extinct breed they need worry about will be the farmer!”

The weather has been very favourable and for once we are actually ahead with most of our work. Around 13ha has been reseeded this year, which will be used for grazing heifers next year. The forage maize is looking very well and should, hopefully, be ready any day for cutting. With the maize being grown without the use of plastic, hopefully 30% DM and 30% starch levels should be achievable this year.

Thomas Steele milks 450 Holstein Friesian cows on a 263ha farm in Co Down, Northern Ireland. He was 2012 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year

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