On one hand you have to look at the latest Bord Bia numbers as a huge endorsement of all that is good about what Irish farmers produce.

It is the end result of the hard work by farmers, processing companies and global marketing by Irish food companies selling product around the world. The financial return to rural Ireland is three times greater from this industry than any returns from foreign direct investment companies.

However, we must also remember that at farm level output is vanity while profit is sanity. There is no better example when we review 2022 pigmeat numbers. National export values increased. However, Irish farmers achieved record low profit levels and extreme losses in some cases. Record high input costs, an over-dependence on the Chinese market and globally weak pigmeat prices caused extreme low profit levels on many Irish pig farms. As we look into 2023, other sectors face similar challenges.

Beef producers will be hugely positive at the reopening of the Chinese market for Irish beef. This positivity is well placed when such a huge population grants market access. However, we need to keep it in context. This only opens the door and the job for our meat companies and Bord Bia essentially starts when the green flag is waved. So positive results take time.

Nevertheless, far better to be seeing green flags than red ones and new Bord Bia boss Jim O’Toole and his team deserve good luck.

Nitrates banding rules hitting home

Despite new nitrates rules only just being signed into law, their consequences are already hitting home to some dairy farmers.

In order to beat the numbers and play the averages, farmers are drying off cows a month early, feeding whole milk to calves when they have fed milk powder for years, culling cows and taking on additional unnecessary land just to allow a dilution factor over a greater area.

All of these measures by farmers to stay within limits effectively reduce the competitiveness of our grass-based dairy enterprise and make it a lot more difficult for other farm sectors to compete for any available land. We also have the situation where the proposed mechanism to calculate the organic nitrogen per cow and per farm is not clear and averaging can again distort numbers. Clarity on all aspects needs to be communicated to farmers as soon as possible.

Farmers need income opportunities

The new support scheme for small-scale electricity generation is a chance for the Government to let farmers make real money from renewables. Stephen Robb this week looks at the scheme which will be launched later in the year and, according to Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan’s department, will provide alternative income streams for farmers to meet climate goals. In short, this scheme needs to deliver. It needs to be workable and accessible to all farmers, but above all else, provide a decent return. However, securing an ESB Networks grid connection may prove to be the biggest challenge facing farmers who wish to avail of this scheme.

Better scanning results

In the past we’ve called out the fertility problems and relatively poor scan results that the sheep flock has had over the last three years on Tullamore Farm, despite best-in-class management and extensive investigations. This year’s result of 1.91 lambs per ewe joined and a barren rate of 4.5% for mature ewes is getting back to what we would expect from a Mule-cross flock. The fact we are comparing the scanning rate in mature ewes to poor results in 2022 does not give us a picture of how drought affected performance. The lower scanning rate in ewe hoggets and ewe lambs unfortunately reflects the national picture of a reduced litter size on farms which experienced significant and prolonged drought conditions. See more here.