Today, I’d like to broaden your mind. But my column this week also carries a health warning – you may feel slightly despondent after reading it, but I’ll do my best to tell you this story as sensitively as I can.
Most tillage farmers – perhaps all farmers – aspire to grow in size. Now I know, more often than not, it makes dubious sense to increase in scale, but it is, as I say, the lot of most farmers. If you have 200ac of tillage, you may feel that 400ac is the optimum.
And then when you reach 400ac and have (probably foolishly) bought a combine that’s capable of harvesting 600ac, you become restless again. Same with cows – you have 150, but you want to throw off the limitations of the herringbone and get 300 cows spinning on a rotary.
But… it’s a bit like a dog chasing its tail.
Nonetheless, we hold those who farm large operations up there with the gods. Whether it be with cows or sows or tillage operations so big that they might easily forget to cut a field or two, or maybe even an entire farm. But, and I kid you not, this has actually happened.
I remember hearing about a very extensive tillage farmer years ago, who actually forgot to cut an outlying field. His mega farming operations have long since ceased, but he went on to become very successful in agri-business.
But I have recently come to realise that you and I and the other 10,000 tillage farmers in this country are only in the ha’penny place. For in the current edition of terraHorsch, the Horsch Maschinen GmbH magazine, there is a story about the Kernel farming business in Ukraine.
Kernel was set up in the mid-1990s and is now listed on the Warsaw stock exchange. They’re what you might call ‘properly big farmers’. Even Sir James Dyson’s farming operations don’t hold a candle to Kernel.
Dyson farms around 13,400ha in the UK, but he’s only a hobby farmer towards them.
Kernel chiefly grows three crops – wheat, maize and sunflowers. It produces 7% of the world’s sunflowers. Between all its crops, it produce 3.2m tonnes every year, mostly on long-term rented land. That’s a fair spread of conacre. It buys in a further 8m tonnes of grain and oilseeds. Kernel runs its own trains with 3,500 wagons to move produce to its own oilseed crushing plants and two deep water terminals on the Black Sea. It’s a fully integrated business.
I wasn’t going to tell you its farmed area, but the birdsong and brighter evenings should have lifted your spirits and left you feeling chipper and up for it. Kernel currently farms 515,000ha and this is rising rapidly. By the time you read this, it will probably have added another 10,000ha of the best tillage soil in the world. Let’s put Kernel in context. Ireland has just over 400,000ha of tillage crops. So Kernel is farming an area that’s 20% greater than the entire Irish tillage crop. And there are other farming businesses in Ukraine of a similar size. If economy of scale means anything, they certainly have it. It makes us Irish tillage farmers feel despondent, tiny and irrelevant.
But there’s hope – we’re getting a €100/ac straw chopping subsidy and they’re not. That’ll make the difference.
Thanks Minister, only make sure you include bean and rape straw. We’re OK on the sunflowers. For now.