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In this edition, we look at drainage solutions, the importance of soils, grass growth, new systems, relief milking, investment and employment in the dairy industry. We chat to farmers from Kerry, Clare, Tyrone, Meath, Cork, Tipperary, Staffordshire and Nottingham.

Black and white pattern for profit: Kerry farmer John O'Sullivan is a strong believer in the Holstein Fresian breed and has been increasing the EBI of his herd for the last five years, with the aim of getting as much grass as possible into the diet to keep feed costs low.

A Keane eye for progress: Donal Keane's Kerry farm has heavy peat soils and is located near Lisselton, just outside Listowel. The wet September and October took their tool, but grazing continued.

Ryan flair: Tipperary farmer TJ Ryan talks about grabbing the opportunity when grazing conditions allow – with all stock out day and night.

The only way is up: because of its elevation, Con Lehane's Cork farm can be cold and wet, which has an effect on its drainage. There were two elements to the drainage plan – the first dealt with open drains at the field perimeter, while the other involved field drains.

Less stress Muir success: a desire to live in the English countryside and starting out as a dairy farmer led to Hames Muir giving up a promising career with a security firm in 2012.

Fresh thinking and new blood: Aidan Brennan visits the Farrell family farm in Kilmessan, Co.Meath, which is undergoing a system change and substantial expansion.

The Clune is in the title: focusing investment on productive assets has led to Clare farmer Francis Clune winning the Munster regional category in the 2017 Grassland Farmer of the Year Awards.

Pastures new: the 30-mile journey from East Midlands Airport in Derby, England, to Halem, Nottingham can best be described as dull and grey. You pass through a monotony of what appear to be soulless, industrial towns. This is middle England. But a change of colour greets you on arrival at the Sharman family farm.

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New year recruitment for Brexit vets
Despite An Taoiseach’s commitment to recruit new vets and customs officials in July, the Department has yet to commence the recruitment drive.

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that it will be the new year before more vets are recruited to deal with the customs and veterinary issues that could arise in the wake of Brexit.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave a commitment in July this year that up to 1,000 additional customs officials and vets would be recruited by 2021 to handle any fallout from Brexit.

We will continue to prepare for a no-deal [Brexit]

It was understood that up to 300 vets would be recruited as part of the 1,000 positions outlined by An Taoiseach.

While he admitted at the time that that it would not be “possible to have 1,000 people in place” in the event of a hard Brexit scenario by March 2019, he said that “we will make contingency arrangements in the event that might arise”.

No hard border

However, with the confirmation that a veterinary recruitment drive has yet to commence, there may be concerns that the Department is underprepared to cope with any implications from Brexit.

The Department stated that it was working under the so-called “central base” scenario.

“This envisages no hard border on the island of Ireland, a transition period to the end of 2020 and an EU-UK Free Trade Agreement from 1 January 2021, in accordance with stated UK commitments and red lines,” the Department stated.

“DAFM has sanction to commence recruitment of an additional compliment of staff in 2019 across a number of grades and disciplines, including the veterinary sphere.

“Provision has been made in this regard in the 2019 budget.”

Given that just roughly 80 vets qualify from UCD every year, it's also unclear where the additional 300 vets would be recruited from.

Brexit

While the current draft arrangement for Brexit outlines a transition period, it has yet to be agreed upon by the European Council.

The most worrying area of Brexit from an Irish perspective is trade practicalities between the north and south of Ireland.

In a statement, the European Commission outlined that the draft text “means that Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of EU rules that are indispensable for avoiding a hard border.”

These include:

  • Sanitary rules for veterinary controls ("SPS rules").
  • Rules on agricultural production/marketing.
  • However, the British prime minister has not ruled out the possibility of a hard Brexit scenario and told the House of Commons on Thursday 15 November that, “we will continue to prepare for a no-deal [Brexit].”

    Negotiations on a Brexit deal are still at a delicate stage in the UK, with both the Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and the Work and Pension Secretary Esther McVey resigning this morning after draft proposals were published yesterday.

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    First blow to Brexit deal as Raab resigns
    UK Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has resigned from his position.

    After a marathon cabinet meeting on Wednesday, where the UK cabinet agreed a draft Brexit deal, the UK secretary for Brexit Dominic Raab has delivered the first blow to the agreement by resigning from his position.

    "Today, I have resigned as Brexit secretary. I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU. Here is my letter to the PM explaining my reasons, and my enduring respect for her," Raab said in a tweet.

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    More ANC land in new maps
    More farmers will gain from the new Areas of Natural Constraint maps which will be released this month, the Irish Farmers Journal understands.

    There will be a net increase in land classified as Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) when the new maps are released in the coming weeks, the Irish Farmers Journal understands.

    A small amount of good land in the west will be de-classified as ANC but overall more areas will be in than out. In the budget, €250m was allocated to ANC for 2019. Additional land in the scheme is not expected to have a major impact on the overall budget as most new areas are less severely handicapped. Payments are skewed to favour more disadvantaged areas such as hills. It appears payments for each classification of land type will not vary much from the current system. It also seems there will be no change to the minimum stocking rate requirements.

    IFA rural development chair Joe Brady said Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed must protect areas currently classified, and ensure the 2019 payment rates relate to the natural handicap, with higher payments going to the most marginal land.

    If you currently receive an ANC payment but your land is not classified as ANC in the new maps, you will receive 80% of the value of your payment in 2019 and 20% in 2020, it is understood. At the moment, tillage land does not qualify for ANC payments but it will in the future if it is classified as ANC. The Irish Farmers Journal also understands an appeals system will be put in place.

    The new criteria will replace what was deemed out of date by the European Court of Auditors some years ago. They include wetness of soil, slopes, stoniness, soil texture and other limiting natural handicaps to agricultural production. There are currently four classifications of ANC – offshore islands, mountain-type grazing, more severely handicapped and less severely handicapped.

    Payments

    As it stands, 75% of the country is classified as ANC. More than 95,000 low-income farmers benefit on land which has been deemed to be suffering from a natural handicap or disadvantage. To date this year, 86,547 farmers have received €209.3m worth of 2018 ANC payments.

    “The payments of ANC along with other direct payments supports such as BPS and GLAS represent a significant proportion of overall farm income in the areas that are classified as ANC,” Brady said. “The Minister must ensure this situation does not change. In the forthcoming CAP 2020 talks, IFA will be seeking a further increase in the ANC allocation to bring it to €300m per annum.”

    This week the European Commission warned Ireland it will be referred to the European Court of Justice if it does not reply within two months to its concerns around delays to re-mapping and setting conservation objectives.

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    'Almost' no change to ANC