Expanded Rural Social Scheme to accept only over-25s for a limited time
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has given some details on the deployment of additional resources for the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) and Farm Assist, including a six-year limit for the RSS.

While the RSS had until now provided farmers and fishermen on certain social welfare benefits with additional community paid work without time constraints, Minister Varadkar has said that this would change for the 500 new places promised under Budget 2017.

“All new entrants to the scheme will have to be over 25 years of age,” he told the Dáil. “There will, however, be a six-year limit for new entrants as we want some turnover within the scheme, rather than people being on it for life, and we want other people from the community to have the opportunity to take part,” he added.

Early 2017 allocation

The minister said that his department had sought expressions of interest from the local bodies implementing the scheme and received requests for 1,000 places. He said he intended to allocate the 500 new places “as early as possible in 2017”, taking into account “the number of places already allocated, the demand for places in particular areas, work opportunities available and the numbers of farmers and fishermen and women in receipt of income support”.

The additional funding will bring the total number of RSS places to 3,100, for an annual budget of €47.6m.

During the Dáil debate, Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan expressed concern based on his contacts with the bodies running the scheme that the overall six-year time limit to participate in the scheme may be broken up into three-year maximum consecutive periods. Minister Varadkar did not respond to his comment.


IFA rural development chair Joe Brady described the proposed changes to the terms and conditions of the RSS as “unacceptable”. He, too, was aware of proposals to break up participation in the scheme into two three-year periods. “The proposal to impose a three-year limit on any farmer who takes up one of the 500 new places on the scheme is a retrograde step as the RSS must operate in a flexible manner and give certainty to those farmers who partake in it,” said Brady, adding that the 25 minimum age would undermine the progress offered by additional places.

Farm Assist boost from mid-March

Minister Varadkar also said that the measures introduced in Budget 2017 to reverse cuts to the Farm Assist scheme would apply from 15 March.

Farm income and other income from off-farm self-employment will then be assessed at 70%, down from 100%, for means-tested access to the scheme. An additional annual disregard of €254 will apply for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and other children.

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France begins €50m Brexit border upgrade
The French government has announced the start of a construction programme to host border checks after a no-deal Brexit.

Agencies managing ports and airports connecting France to the UK will "launch without delay the necessary works to make border controls operational on 30 March," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced this Thursday.

This includes temporary buildings and parking areas representing a €50m investment.

Emergency legislation is also being prepared to maintain traffic through the Channel tunnel

The French government is also launching the recruitment and training of 580 customs and veterinary officers to be deployed to the "most-affected regions" including ports along France's north-western coast.

Emergency legislation is also being prepared to maintain traffic through the Channel tunnel and offer temporary residency arrangements to British citizens in France.

French ports and the tunnel handle traffic to and from the UK as well as much of the agri-food and other trade between Ireland and mainland Europe, whether through direct shipping route or via the so-called UK landbridge with lorries transiting through Britain.

Four-month turnaround at fourth-largest feedlot in the USA
Harris Ranch is an integrated beef company with a feedlot and packing house.

Harris Ranch accounts for 1% of the US annual beef kill, making it the fourth-largest feedlot in the US.

At any one time, it has the capacity to hold 120,000 cattle and the company kills 1,100 head per day, five days a week.

Cattle – all heifers and steers – are finished within 120 days of arrival.

Cattle are tagged, clipped, vaccinated and pregnancy-tested (where appropriate) upon arrival.

They are separated into lots based on their sex, type and size.


While animals used to be killed at 20 months of age due to Japanese export requirements, they are now up to 30 months.

They spend 10 days on a starter ration, 10 days on an intermediate ration and the rest of the time on a finishing ration.

The main component of the feed is corn from the Midwest.

The ranch takes in two train loads every month, each bringing 13,000t.

The finishing ration is 85% corn and 10% alfalfa

Despite the fact that feedlots in the Midwest have corn nearby, they have colder winters, which gives Californian finishers a better average daily liveweight gain.

The corn is steam flaked. Alfalfa is used for fibre in the ration.

There are nine ingredients in the ration: corn, alfalfa, molasses, vitamin A, vitamin E, limestone, copper, CDS (which is a liquid by-product from ethanol production) and a pro-biotic.

The finishing ration is 85% corn and 10% alfalfa. The mill runs 18 hours per day, so expansion of the feedlot is limited unless a new mill is installed.

The feed mill at Harris Ranch. \ Odile Evans

Average slaughter weights are 1,250lb (570kg).

The yield from live to rail is around 64% and the yield from rail to box is 70%.

Harris Ranch has a program to feed information back to breeders to improve genetics based on kill-out weights called Partnership for Quality.

Beef-bred animals have an average daily liveweight gain of 4lb/day (1.81kg/day), while Holsteins are at 2.8lb/day (1.27kg/day).

Each animal has 6in of bunk space.

There are one million dairy cows in an 80-mile radius from the feedlot, meaning there is an ample supply of Holsteins.

Ten percent of the cattle come from Mexico and the rest are from anywhere west of the Rockies.

Beef-bred animals have an average daily liveweight gain of 4lb/day. \ Odile Evans

In the mornings, a group of 20 cowboys ride through the pens to check animals for signs of disease.

If they need to be isolated, a yellow tag is put in their ear and they are moved to one of seven hospital pens on the site, which have a crew to regularly temperature-test and treat.

Dust and pneumonia are the main health problems.

Sprinkler systems are used from May to October to keep dust down and during the really hot times the feed is adjusted to hay rather than corn.

When the Irish Farmers Journal visited in the first week of December, a new bio-fuel tank was being installed to run the fleet of 70 trucks.

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Almond production booming in California
Almonds are one the largest agricultural exports from California, producing 83% of the world’s supply. There are 6,800 growers in the state.

The almond co-operative Blue Diamond saw production increase by 100% in the decade up to 2012.

The business, owned by 3,000 growers, says that it is on track to increase by the same volume in the next four years, harvesting a 3,000,000lb crop (1,360 metric tonnes).

Growers will soon see their contribution to the almond marketing board reduce from 4c/lb to 3c/lb.


Blue Diamond is the largest almond co-op in California; its average grower has 77 acres. Almost 99% of the growers are family-owned businesses.

To raise capital for the co-op, 3% of each grower’s base price is kept in the co-op for three and a half years on a revolving return system.

However, Blue Diamond also has a low-interest loan program for its farmers.

One third of Blue Diamond revenue is commodity based, but two thirds is value-added products, such as sliced almonds, flour, oil, etc.

This year, our growers got $0.13/lb over the market price

“The goal is to give our growers an increased price over the market place,” said membership development manager Ben Goudie.

“This year, our growers got $0.13/lb over the market price.”

Blue Diamond has a global ingredients division, with most of its sales to the EU and China. It also has an almond innovation centre in Sacramento.

In recent years, Blue Diamond reported “tremendous growth in profitability with milks”.

Two months ago, it launched almond protein on to the market and entered the beauty market with a sweet almond oil for health.

How do you grow an almond?

The average almond orchard is in the ground for 25 years. Between eight and 12 years of planting, a tree reaches its breakeven point.

To set up an irrigation system in an orchard, including a reservoir and a pump, costs in the region of $3,000/acre (€2,640).

Every 30in to 40in, there is a dripper, if using a drip irrigation system over flood irrigation.

Blue Diamond says that drip irrigation increases yields by 15%.

A tree requires 48in of rain a year; typically 36in is applied and the rest is rainfall.

Almonds in California are the largest pollinating event in the world.

Almond blossom pollination \ Blue Diamond Almonds

Commercial bee-keepers bring in their bees and it costs approximately $200 (€176) to pollinate an acre of almonds.

Frost hit the 2018 crop in the spring, so growers turned on the sprinkler systems to mitigate the impact. Some growers have frost systems.

Weeds are kept down in orchards to help the ground absorb the heat from the sun in the day, protecting the tree from frost at night.

Disease, hail and pests are all issues for growers, as they damage the almonds. The biggest issue is the navel orange worm.


In July, the hull splits, allowing the kernel inside to dry to below 6% moisture over a few weeks.

Hull-split almonds. This photo was taken during the later season prior to harvest. \ Blue Diamond Almonds

Mid-August onwards is typically shake time. The harvest floor is prepped before shaking, as when the trees are shook, the almonds lie on the ground for a few days before sweeping into rows and picking them up.

Sweeping almonds to be picked up and processed. \ Blue Diamond Almonds

Over 10 days on the ground, 10% of the crop could be lost due to pests, particularly ants.

Yields would be approximately 1,200kg/acre of kernels.

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