While somewhat late in its implementation, the TAMS II Tillage Capital Investment Scheme (TCIS) has been a vital scheme for Irish tillage farmers.
The aim of TCIS was to help the tillage sector develop a targeted and precise approach focusing on environmental dividends, efficiency and growth and, ultimately, improving competitiveness and farm incomes.
From 2017 to the end of 2020, some €16.1m has been paid out to tillage farmers to help them achieve this. As we enter the last year of the scheme, attention is turning to what is going to replace it.
The Government is drafting its CAP strategic plan, which is due to go out to public consultation by the summer.
We know from the Department of Agriculture’s needs assessment document that one of the high-level priorities of the next CAP is to increase efficiency and competitiveness of the farming sector, through on-farm investment and adoption of new technologies.
So the chances of a follow-up scheme to TAMS is likely. How this scheme will actually be designed has yet to be determined.
One thing that is clear, however, is that sustainability is likely to be the main theme of any scheme.
Sustainability is a broad term and encompasses everything from environment aspects, to efficiencies and to farm financial viability. Therefore, the scope of the replacement to the TCIS should be equally as broad.
Positive environmental profile
Furthermore, given the positive environmental profile of Irish tillage farming, funding should be available to encourage other sectors to diversify into crop production, especially young farmers beginning their farming career. Access to modern machinery is often the stumbling block to this.
The Irish Farmers Journal has pulled together some of the key investments we think should be eligible under the next scheme.
Straw chopping can help to improve soil health and structure, as well as bringing phosphorus and potassium back into the soil. A large proportion of combines in Ireland are not fitted with a straw chopper, but they can be easily fitted to combines. With the many benefits associated with chopping straw, it should be encouraged under the scheme.
Focus needs to be given to machinery tyres. Low-ground-pressure tyres run at reduced ground pressure, which can greatly help to reduce soil compaction by spreading the axle load. Even flotation tyres on implements such as trailers are beneficial for soil. Pressure regulation kits allow for tyre pressure inflation and deflation on the move, and a pneumatically controlled system can be retrofitted to tractors.
Once you get to a certain scale on a tillage farm, it makes sense to have your own combine. Therefore, if tillage area is to increase, it means that some of those farmers who are increasing their area, as a result of converting grassland on farms, may need to invest in a combine.
Similarly, if the Government is serious about organic farming and is pushing organic tillage where there is demand for product, farmers often find it difficult to get a contractor in to cut their crops. While a new combine may be out of reach for many, grant aid on combines would release more secondhand machines to the market.
The more data you have, the more efficient you can become. Yield mapping allows farmers to carefully examine how different parts of their farms perform. The use of yield mapping and GPS soil-sampling could see more fertiliser and lime being applied at variable rates and therefore be used more efficiently in line with the sector’s climate targets.
Soil-sampling is an important job on any tillage farm. If soil-sampling equipment such as augers, electronic augers and mapping software were incentivised, this would encourage more growers to sample soil on a regular basis.
Where applicants can prove that they are specialist tillage farmers, grain trailers could be part an eligible item under the tillage scheme. It is extremely hard to start off as a young tillage farmer or a new entrant to the sector.
A grant is available for a grain store, but the grain needs to make its way there. After all, what is the difference between a milk tank and a grain trailer? Both hold the product for a limited time until the co-op or buyer can take it.
Chaser bins can also play a positive role in helping to limit field compaction at harvest time.
One point often reiterated in the Irish Farmers Journal is that weighbridges are the missing management tool on many tillage farms. Weighbridges help growers to manage what comes off the field and also what inputs are delivered to the farm.
As weather windows become tighter, farming becomes difficult. Farmers need to cut crops in the most optimum conditions possible. A moisture meter is a handy tool to have on the farm and can allow you to get working faster if the grain is at the desired level.
Drones which are capable of capturing high-resolution images of crops, helping tillage farmers conduct aerial inspections of crops and fields, are becoming an increasingly common management tool.
As sensor technology and data analytics continue to improve over the coming years, drones may soon become commonplace on Irish farms.
Nitrogen sensors, when used correctly, are a useful tool to help take the guesswork out of using organic manures on crops. The sensors can detect the levels of light reflected from the crop. The data from the sensors is used to generate NDVI vegetation index maps.
Mechanical weeding field vegetables, potatoes, beet and possibly even cereals is a good integrated pest management practice. However, given our decreasing chemical tool box to control weeds and the development of resistance in certain species, it will likely become an important management practice once again.
Other notable mentions for inclusion in future tillage investment schemes include interchangeable tracks, camera kits for machinery, organic manure storage facilities and home composting equipment.