Farmer writes: Farming with nature in mind
This week we welcome a new Farmer Writes contibutor to the team. Will Warham farms in Oilgate, Co Wexford.

I’ll start with a brief introduction. I have been farming in Wexford since 1968. I was born and bred near Dublin and have lived in Ireland all my life, apart for a brief spell in Scotland and the UK at agricultural colleges.

After college, I got into RTÉ in its infancy as a film cameraman. They were great and interesting years and I was lucky enough to often film farming programmes.

Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by nature and even remember walking home from where the bus left me off in Chapelizod. That took ages, as I used to peer under windowsills for the chrysalis stage of butterflies.

The first farm in Co Wexford was considered very big at that stage – about 120ha. I had cattle and cereals, and in the latter years ran two grain dryers, rented extra land and had a spray contracting business. Then I bought another farm near Oilgate running down to the Slaney river. A crazy idea, but I had fallen in love with the place.

The big farm has long gone and the Oilgate farm is now called Jamestown Nature Reserve. The farm is a small strip of land running from a side road right down to the river, which is tidal. There are extensive reed beds and lots of wildlife.

I have let some land to a good neighbour near the road. He runs dairy young stock here. There are a small amount of cereals, usually oats or spring barley. There is also some young forestry, planted about nine years ago under the Native Woodland Scheme. This is mainly Scots pine and oak. Another small block is under another scheme and consists of hybrid larch and oak. The larch started slowly, but has now overtaken the small quantity of Scots pine in the same plantation.

An unusual farm enterprise is red deer. At one time I had 60 breeding hinds running with two stags. The numbers are lower now. There were 12 deer farmers in Co Wexford at one time. Now there is only me. There would be some profit in the business if I were nearer to Northern Ireland, where there is a dedicated abattoir.

Finally, there is a wooded valley with a small stream at the bottom, plus a small old wood near the river. Herons and little egrets nest there.

Now the nature bit for the month of September. Keep a lookout for these butterflies still on the wing: Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell (below), and possibly Painted Lady.

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Farmer writes: hard start to 2019 for pig farmers
Maybe it is time we realised that we should be producing less for more rather than more for less, writes pig farmer Frank Brady.

It has been a hard start to 2019 with the stand-off between vets and the Department of Agriculture in slaughter plants which has reduced factory throughput and caused a build-up of animals on farm.

The backlog still hasn’t progressed as quickly as we would have liked and as long as that continues, the factories will be slow to give us the price rise that we really need.

China is down a minimum of 10% of its herd, which equates to 5% of the world’s pig population

Outside of Ireland, the kill in Germany is down from 1m to 850,000 head and this will be the first thing to have an immediate effect – German prices will have to start moving up.

This fall in the kill is as a result of the bad prices we have seen for the last six to eight months.

China is down a minimum of 10% of its herd, which equates to 5% of the world’s pig population.

This means that we should be back in profitability sooner rather than later. We need the factories to realise this and plan ahead and give a price rise now when it’s needed most.

Processors, banks and millers really need to understand the pain and the loneliness of being a pig farmer at the minute.

It’s very hard to take that everybody seems to be getting a margin except the primary producer.

The home farm is progressing well. There are good growth rates across pigs and I’m happy with the performance we’re achieving at the minute.

There’s a certain amount of maintenance that needs to be done, but until prices rise it’s a case of fixing things when we can.

African swine fever

At present, China is battling with African swine fever which has spread rapidly to over 23 provinces countrywide.

This is a devastating disease with up to 100% mortality in infected cases and neither vaccine nor cure. China is home to 50% of the world’s pigs and with the disease spreading, the culling of infected animals will severely hamper pigmeat production in the country.

Maybe it is time we realised that we should be producing less for more rather than more for less

It is therefore anticipated that China will increase the importation of pigmeat to meet the demand for the nation’s most popular meat.

This should put the production of pigmeat into a profitable situation again. But the question must be asked; where is the industry going worldwide if we are relying on the misfortune of others to get a margin? Maybe it is time we realised that we should be producing less for more rather than more for less. Looking forward, hopefully we can learn from the mistakes of the past.

Pig prices at the moment are hovering between 1.38/kg and 1.42/kg, but with the breakeven price for pig producers at 1.54/kg, even this price is not good enough at the moment.

Farmer Writes: agriculture the new whipping boy for health and climate
It certainly appears that agriculture is the new whipping boy for all health issues and global warming, writes Gerald Potterton.

It is strange – even unbelievable – for the Taoiseach of a major meat exporting country to proclaim he’s cutting back on his meat intake for health reasons and also to reduce his carbon footprint.

It’s akin to British prime minister Theresa May stating that she’s cutting back on the use of her British-built Jaguar car because she no longer felt it was safe or good for the environment – poor Theresa has made loads of gaffes but even she hasn’t fallen for that one.

It certainly appears that agriculture is the new whipping boy for all health issues and global warming. And the recent report in the Lancet Medical Journal, which suggests meat taxes and the removal of some food products altogether, defies belief.

These scientists aren’t in the real world with their recommended one cocktail sausage and a quarter of a potato a day.

Despite what the vegans and climate-changers believe, meat eating will remain long after these fads are gone

We have to be aware of politicians and scientists with particular agendas. And when it comes to food and climate change issues, they’re as profuse as horseflies in a summer meadow.

I would suggest to the Taoiseach there are other ways he could radically improve his carbon footprint and, not only his, but that of the entire nation.

A sincere commitment to farm-produced alternative energy is one way. And scrap the Government jet and fly by regular scheduled aircraft is another or, better still, travel by boat. And by remaining here instead of spending a couple of weeks swanning around Africa while this country is practically in a Brexit-induced crisis, would be considerably better for the health of the entire nation.

Despite what the vegans and climate-changers believe, meat eating will remain long after these fads are gone. Beans, nuts, lentils and flatulent monkey food will soon lose its appeal.

Remaining with meat, Mrs P and I recently spent a long weekend in London, visiting our two daughters there. Now shops and Mrs P go together like beer and crisps and having done a few of the usual tourist attractions, she was due to go on a bit of a shopping tear. It would be both mean and pointless – even dangerous – to hold her back.

My eye was drawn to the Wagyu beef, which comes from Japan and was retailing at a whopping £500/kg

Now I don’t do shopping and I go to Alfco in Trim and the Gala shop in Kildalkey to buy the Irish Farmers Journal and a Koka pot noodle for lunch, that’s about it (Mrs P works both within and outside the home so I prepare my own lunch). Most of my outdoor clothing is free, courtesy of Drummonds and Yara and other benevolent suppliers. But when in London one must do what the Londoners do and all that.

So off we went to that great shopping emporium, Harrods, and to the Food Hall. I’d see what Irish-produced stuff was on offer. I can’t say I saw a lot but I did see Cashel Blue Cheese. All of the beef seemed to be “premium Scotch”, dry-aged for 32 days, no more.

However, my eye was drawn to the Wagyu beef, which comes from Japan and was retailing at a whopping £500/kg.

You’d want to keep a good eye on the meat factory carcase-trimmers if you were getting your Wagyu killed. It’s quite strange-looking meat, really well marbled by specs of fat throughout the meat and, yes, I’d like to try it.

But Wagyu was beyond my reach and that evening I was keen that we would give the Five Guys burger chain a shot. It’s hailed as the best burger in town, with chips fried in peanut oil. It was good and I’d heartily recommend one to Mr Varadkar. Made with Irish beef, of course.

Farmer writes: Summer in the central wheatbelt of Australia
Wexford man Brian Sunderland is finishing up on the harvest in western Australia.

The mercury is touching 40°C once again as I write this. Thankfully, the air conditioning is keeping things somewhat comfortable.

My name is Brian Sunderland, I’m 23 and I hail from Gorey in north Co Wexford.

I arrived in Australia last April after previously working on a dairy farm in Canterbury, New Zealand.

I’m currently working in Western Australia, where we have just finished up harvest for the 2018/2019 season. The farm I work on is a large cropping and sheep farm, based just outside the town of Narembeen, owned by brothers Joe and Brendan Hickey.

Rainfall for this area is also quite low with only 300ml falling in an average year

The farm extends to well over 12,100ha (30,000ac), along with over 5,000 Merino breeding ewes.

The cropping areas cover some 7,000ha, with wheat being the main crop along with barley and some oats for feeding.

Soil types vary from light sandy country to heavy red clay ground.

Yields are low compared with back home in Ireland, with wheat averaging 2.7t/ha and barley usually around the 3t/ha mark.

Inputs and land costs are lower, however, with land averaging $400/ac, a big difference to €10,000/ac at home.

Rainfall for this area is also quite low with only 300ml falling in an average year, usually in big thunderstorms.

Seeding takes place from mid April with harvest commencing from November onwards. Min-till is practised here using 60ft strip till “bars” in order to prevent soil erosion. Compound fertiliser and liquid nitrogen are also applied at the time of sowing.

Big power is required to pull these machines and the farm runs both a 9400 and a 9520R articulated John Deere. Two John Deere combines are also run on the farm, with 35ft and 40ft headers.

The Hickeys have their own trucks for hauling grain, fertiliser, lime, wool and sheep.

We have been busy in January, cleaning and storing away the harvest equipment. Combines, tractors, chaser bins and trucks have all been blown down and washed.

Fencing is also a regular job, with thousands of kilometres of fencing requiring maintenance. Over 1,000t of lime has also been spread with more arriving in the next week.

Next year’s seed grain has been cleaned and treated, ready for seeding in a few weeks’ time.

Contractors were called out to the farm to clean out a water dam that had become silted up over time. Dams, dug in strategic areas of paddocks to catch rain, are the main source of drinking water for stock in this area due to limited piped supply and varying ground water supplies.

Rams have been put out with the sheep mobs and will remain with the ewes for around four weeks until the mobs return to the main yards for shearing in mid-February.

Merino wool is a valuable commodity, with fleeces fetching around $20/kg, a far cry from current wool prices at home. Shearing is carried out by contractors, some of whom shear over 600,000 ewes in a few months.

One mob of ewes has also been artifically inseminated and will lamb down first. These ewes were drafted from the main flock based on wool quality and overall conformation. Future rams are bred from these.

Weather is probably the biggest challenge farmers face here. Rainfall can be the make or break for a crop depending when it falls.

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Farmer Writes: making the most of the good conditions as calving starts