From medicinal cannabis to Irish whiskey – the alternatives for tillage
From growing medicinal cannabis to using Irish grain in Irish whiskey, a range of options for improving the prospects of tillage farmers were discussed at a recent conference.

Speaking at the Lismullin Institute, Michael Hoey, managing director at Country Crest, said if arable farmers did not get paid they simply would not be there. He said while it was fantastic the dairy sector in Ireland was thriving, it was important there was balance across all of agriculture.

“I was involved in Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 and it was seen very much so that the only show in town was the dairy industry. The beef industry as you know is suffering badly. There’s no margin in it and the tillage sector is coming behind that as we’re seen as a means of cheap feed for the dairy sector,” said Hoey.

As a solution to the weak position tillage farmers find themselves in, Hoey said it was time to put a framework in place similar to the co-op model in dairy.

He referenced recent efforts to bring the sugar beet industry back to Ireland under a co-operative structure. Rather than producing raw materials, beet would be further processed into value-added goods such as bioethanol and degradable bioplastics.

Medicinal cannabis

Hoey said the pharmaceutical industry should also be targeted. The fact the majority of drips used in Europe were manufactured in Ireland using imported ingredients was identified as an area of opportunity.

He said companies were willing to buy Irish ingredients and that the key advantage was, rather than supplying discounters, they were not price sensitive. Continuity of supply was more important.

Looking to other areas within the pharmaceutical sector, he said medicinal cannabis had huge potential.

“I know that everyone thinks this is up-in-the-sky stuff but medicinal cannabis is going to be here in the future. It’s modern pain relief and it works. People all over Europe are embracing these technologies and they’re growing them.”

He referenced British Sugar, which stopped growing tomatoes in its greenhouses in the UK and instead grows medicinal cannabis. He said there were markets and margins available to vegetable growers that could never be provided through fresh produce.

Irish whiskey

Whiskey was an area he saw that tillage farmers could add value to their grain due to the high demand for Irish whiskey.

“The only thing Irish about most of our Irish whiskeys is the water that is in it and I think that is an indictment on our industry,” Hoey stated bluntly.

“We need to get legislation changed. If we’re going to be as good as we think we are at distilling Irish whiskey and sending it all over the world, at the least the ingredients should be grown in Ireland.”

Listen: no-deal Boortmalt scenario still possible
There is no agreement between Boortmalt and its growers, although growers' representatives remain hopeful.

Only 600t of a 20,000t offer from Boortmalt has been taken up by farmers, Tuesday night's IFA malting barley growers' meeting heard. The offer was made over the heads of the negotiating committee to growers last month. Farmers could secure up to 100% contract tonnage at €190/t on a first-come, first-served basis.

The small uptake would suggest growers are backing the committee in pursuing a full agreement before committing to deliver to Boortmalt.

"Take the seed, sow the crop, but don't sign any contract until we have a deal," said IFA grain chair Mark Browne.

While a no-deal scenario still is possible, Browne was optimistic: "The committee are not going to give in. We think we are being fair, we aren't asking for anything unreasonable."

The room seemed to be with him.

"We should continue to push for €200/t," said grower Willie Masterson, "but we won't tie the committee's hands".

"Our fathers and grandfathers made Boortmalt Ireland," said another. "Boortmalt have tried to undermine the committee."

Middle man

A Boortmalt representative told last month’s Teagasc malting barley conference that 6,000t of the 20,000t offer made in February had been taken up by growers, but at last night's meeting in Enniscorthy it was alleged by committee member Seamus Duggan that 5,400t of this tonnage had been taken up by a merchant, who was in turn is offering it to farmers at €198/t. This price is achieved by bundling the 20% of contract that could be fixed at €230/t earlier in the year with the €190/t price.

Merchants buying and reselling contract tonnage is a new development, and one that could further remove growers from the ultimate users of Irish malting barley: distillers and brewers.

The Creil price was reported at €187/t as of Tuesday, up €8 in a week. The hope is that the Creil price base will prove more reactive and resilient than the MATIF wheat price that was previously used as a guide.

Colm Fingleton of the Irish Grain Growers group, which is not part of the talks between the IFA and Boortmalt, said the MATIF wheat price and the Creil malting barley price both "bear no significance whatsoever to Irish barley". "We're going round in circles," he added.

Fresh potato imports total over 73,000t in 2018
Potato imports have increased by over 32% since 2009, while the potato area planted in the country has fallen 34% over the same period.

Imports of new- and old-season fresh potatoes reached over 70,000t in 2018, the second highest level in the last 10 years. Approximately 56% of these originated from Britain.

According to the CSO, fresh potato imports have increased by 32% since 2009, which directly reflects the 34% decrease in Irish potato area over that same period.

In the last 10 years, more than €300m of fresh potatoes have been imported from countries all around the world. Fresh potato imports are destined for a wide range of markets, including peeling, packing and chipping.

Processed potatoes

Around 84,000t of pre-cooked and processed potatoes (excluding crisps and non-edible products) were imported in 2018. These include ready-made and precooked chips, valued at around €84m.

Crisps

Despite the increase in indigenous crisp production, crisp imports have steadily risen since 2009.

In 2018, the imported crisp market stood at 16,000t, valued at €42m.

However, overall import figures have been on a downward trend since 2016.

Read more

UK body seeking permission to trial genetically modified potatoes

IFA potato report: planting stalled as soils reach saturation

Origin launches new digital satellite platform to map farms from space
The new digital platform will map crops and fields from space using a network of satellites and imaging technology.

Irish agri-services group Origin Enterprises has launched a new digital satellite platform called Rhiza, which will map tillage and dairy farms across Europe using satellites in space.

Origin’s new platform will allow the company to image farms from space and provide farmers with data around crop health, yield predictions, local weather patterns as well as disease and pest decision support tools.

The new Rhiza platform will have a starting cost of £0.50/ha (€0.58/ha) for farmers, which will include boundary mapping, georeferenced cropping, hyperlocal weather and Origin’s existing Contour app. Additional services can be added to the platform with prices rising to £2/ha (€2.33/ha) for the Rhiza plus option and £3/ha (€3.50/ha) for the Rhiza pro.

The Rhiza precision option, which includes farm planning and variable rate application maps, is the most expensive option for farmers and starts off at £3.60/ha (€4.20/ha). The price can increase depending on the level of sophistication required by the farmer or agronomist.

Origin says it already images around 2m acres across Europe for farmer customers, providing farmers and agronomists with real-time imagery on crops and fields.

The company says the Rhiza platform will work off imagery from the Planet constellation of satellites, which has over 150 satellites in the sky and provides optical imaging that has a resolution that is nine times higher than other providers.

Fresh images

The partnership with Planet will also allow Rhiza to capture fresh images of fields every 1.5 days compared to standard satellite platforms which take seven days.

Origin said it will also tap into the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel satellites to provide farmers with all-weather synthetic aperture radar (SAR) monitoring, from which Origin derives its crop growth models.

Launched last week at the ESA headquarters in Harwell, UK, Origin said it will initially focus on the UK market with its n1ew Rhiza platform but plans to roll out the system to farms in central and eastern Europe, where the company provides large-scale agronomy services for farmers.