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.”

Malting to expand via direct merchant contracts
The area sown for malting barley in the north east could increase three-fold this year.

Malting barley production in the northeast is set to triple this spring to around 1,000ac.

James Loughran of Dundalk-based Loughrans’ Stores will sign contracts directly with farmers, rather than Boortmalt, with malting-quality grain traded on post-harvest.

The variety RGT Planet will replace Laureate.

Speaking at XXX, Tom Bryan of Boortmalt said the new variety Prospect had done well in the area in 2018 and that malt samples from this looked particularly interesting.

Crop agronomy is to be provided by local agronomist Joe Conroy.

Deadline for €220/t beans contract with Quinns extended to this Friday
The 2019 contract offer of €220/t for beans was announced at Quinns tillage conference which was held last week.

The deadline for the offer of a contract bean price of €220/t from Quinns of Baltinglass has been extended to this Friday.

The contract offer of €220/t for beans at 22% MC was announced last week at the tillage conference held by Quinns.

Growers looking to avail of the offer should contact any Quinns of Baltinglass office.

Break crop option

Despite the poor yields achieved by many bean growers last year, the crop offers a viable break crop option and, in an average year, has provided a reasonable return to growers with the inclusion of the coupled payment from the Protein Aid Scheme.

Read more

Offer of €220/t for beans with Quinns ends Friday night

One new spring bean recommended for 2019

Bitter sweet memories from 2018
Memories of 2018 will be bitter sweet, with both good and bad elements of the year to remember.

As we leave 2018 behind us, it is perhaps opportune to recall some of the memories from 2018 when we saw combines and balers in fields in spring trying to clear fields following the disastrous backend in parts of the country, especially along the western seaboard.

We will remember the very late spring, as people's planting plans were changed time and time again due to the absence of sowing opportunities resulting from the incessant wet.

The same conditions caused the three-crop rule to be suspended for the year.

Level of heat

But the weather did improve in May taking us directly from winter to summer and with it came a level of heat and dryness that we are unaccustomed to.

The net result was that many spring crops came under growth pressure early in their life and many never recovered from that early stress.

This left early concerns about grain fill and protein levels, especially for malting barley, and those fears were often realised.

The heat brought the associated benefit of early maturity and ongoing dry weather meant that the harvest was largely under control and finished early in most of the country.

Potatoes suffered

Potatoes and veg crops also suffered badly in the heat, with sprouting and poor quality all too common.

Irrigation had a significant impact, but possibly more through cooling the soil than by providing water, but the two cannot be excluded.

The dryness generated a fodder shortage by mid-summer and many growers took the opportunity to avail of the fodder scheme to produce additional forage crops for livestock farmers.

Perhaps this exercise will re-introduce many farmers to the benefits of having a crop growing year-round and its benefits are likely to be seen even more so in coming years.

Maize area was increased substantially and fodder beet area also increased. Sugar beet was also on the radar in 2018 as Beet Ireland tries to push on with or cease the project, following an expression of interest by farmers who have been asked to put up €1,000 each to generate €1m to take the project to its next stage, or not.

Autumn conditions were as good as summer, with good planting conditions enabling good establishment that can still be seen as we finish out 2018.

Shrinking arsenal

On the negative side, tillage farmers lost Reglone in 2018 and it now seems more likely than not that chlorothalonil will not be registered.

Our shrinking chemical arsenal is a cause for ongoing concern in this area.

And the European Court of Justice decision on gene editing slammed the door for the moment on the opportunity of CRISPR/Cas technologies to provide superior genetic alternatives to the use of chemicals.

Among the main lessons from 2018 were the importance of having a range of crops and sowing times to help reduce risk and the importance of being able to recognise price offers as being valuable.