Yields high but margins tight for harvest

A THIRD of the Laois harvest is already out of the fields but the IFA has warned that the much talked of bumper crop may not yield higher profits for farmers.

A THIRD of the Laois harvest is already out of the fields but the IFA has warned that the much talked of bumper crop may not yield higher profits for farmers.

While the weather has not been great this year, farmers are hoping for a dry couple of weeks to ensure crops get harvested and have the correct moisture content for grain merchants.

However, while prices so far have risen in the past few months, Laois IFA chairman Peter Luttrell said that input costs are up 20 per cent on last year, leaving profit margins very tight for growers.

“Winter crops are yielding very well, with very dry weather in April and May when the crops were well established. Spring crops needed moisture at this time of the year but the weather was dry and harsh. So the quality of grain is very good but the yield for Spring crops mightn’t be as high,” he said.

“We have to look at the global side of things for prices as well, we are always depending on what happens elsewhere. Prices are better than last year but the high input costs really take the good out of it for farmers,” he said. “We are depending on subsidies to produce quality traceable food and the margins are very tight.”

Since Boortmalt took over Greencore’s operations last year, 600 grain producers throughout Laois, Kildare, Carlow and Wexford have been taken out of the system. Farmers with less than 100 tonnes in their contract were taken out, which hit smaller farmers.

“Small growers were very good growers. Farmers growing 20, 30, 40 acres of grain can’t supply to them anymore, these are people who have been growing malting barely for two or three generations,” said Mr Luttrell who estimated that of the 600 grain producers left in the four counties, between 150 and 200 of them are Laois based.

This action has caused a number of problems for grain producers. “Protein in malting barley is very low in continuous tillage ground where crops are not rotated every year. Farmers have to spread more nitrogen to bring up the protein levels adding to their input costs,” said Mr Luttrell who added that already some malting barley has been rejected by grain merchants because of low protein levels. The original levels wanted in malting barley were between 9.6 and 11.3. Samples were ran and all came back with lower levels. The level was then reduced to 8.8 and when a lot of malting barley samples failed this, the levels were reduced to 8.5. IT makes a bit of a laugh of the whole thing”.

As well as this problem, grain farmers have also had to tackle the problem of moisture content in their produce.

“A few loads were rejected for high moisture content (which should be less than 21.5 per cent) and loads now are coming in at 17 per cent, 18 per cent and 19 per cent”. Mr Luttrell is hoping that the sun will shine on farmers as they get their crops harvested. “We need to get a couple of fine weeks, we have been working all year towards this”.

He also echoed the IFA’s advice to farmers to hold their nerves and hold out for good prices as markets continue to strengthen. “That goes without saying. If farmers can go into co-ops and negotiate a base price and forward sell grain, then they can benefit from any price rise in the coming months” he said.