Current spot and forward prices are higher than in recent years and offer growers a chance to get a fair return for their investment.
Apart from the grain prices, longer-term things are happening, which will positively impact the Irish tillage industry for years to come.
The EU has set very ambitious targets for the next 30 years.
The EU's path to greening
It wants to improve its citizens' health, reduce our impact on the environment and maintain the rural economy.
Yes, there are alarming targets to reduce pesticides and fertilisers.
Still, I expect these changes to happen slowly over time and be mitigated by other opportunities such as carbon payments (as part of your CAP payments or increased prices for your crops) and possibly gene-edited crop varieties.
Another 'novel idea' in these EU documents is to apply EU regulations to imports such as maize and soya - something every tillage farmer has been saying for years.
In summary, the EU is telling tillage farmers it will reduce its chemical armoury, but will reward us for carbon and stop us from being flooded with cheap imports.
In my 25 years' experience, the EU states its destination well in advance of getting there, but this is where we are going - just compare the 1996 nitrates guidelines to the 2020 nitrates regulations.
Tillage friendly Irish Government
It is not so long ago that tillage farmers had limited opportunities to get Government funding and looked enviously on the livestock sectors getting supports such as Dairy Hygiene Scheme, Suckler Cow Scheme, etc.
Fortunately, all that has changed and our sector is rightly supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) through machinery grants and the Protein Crop Scheme.
Indeed, the very recently published Ag Climatise Bill targets a minimum tillage area for Ireland and puts tillage as one of the key sectors to meeting our targets.
Already, this 'tillage friendly' Government policy is hitting the streets with the announcement of a straw chopping scheme for harvest 2021 and I expect more tillage-friendly initiatives from DAFM in the years ahead.
The Ag Climatise Bill is a 'living document', so if you have good ideas, make them known.
Industry demand - carbon mitigation
After the economic bang in 2008, agriculture was correctly identified and supported to be an industry with the potential to improve Ireland's finances.
This has come at a cost to our water quality and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so agriculture is asked to keep up the good work but reduce its impact on the environment.
Easier said than done when the fixed costs of increasing output such as cow numbers, buildings, milk processor facilities, etc, are still being paid for.
The stated Irish Government policy to reduce our GHGs is to prioritise technological solutions such as feed and fertiliser additives and increase the use of Irish-produced protein feeds (rape cake, faba beans, peas, etc) over forced de-stocking.
Again, there is scope in the EU laws to set up a carbon market and/or reward farmers through the CAP for such crops.
The EU has committed to publishing a regulatory framework for the certification of carbon removals by 2023, which would be the rule book on what crop or tillage practice contributes to reducing carbon. So, again, all favourable for tillage farming.
Industry demand – raw ingredients
It never ceases to amaze me how well-known Irish food brands are when I am abroad. From Jameson to Kerrygold, Irish food exports are something to be proud of.
Luckily, we have innovative and forward-thinking agri-businesses here that use the crops we produce and pay a premium.
Despite COVID-19, our malting industry has largely maintained its demand for malting barley and the premiums that quality barley attract.
In Seedtech, we have some very promising spring and winter malting barley varieties coming to market in the next year or two to support the premium market.
Initiatives from Seedtech
Other opportunities are being looked at - all it takes is a little imagination and support from people to try something new.
The starting point of all crops begins with seed that is fit for purpose.
In Seedtech, our business is built on innovating seed so that farmers will generate increased profitability from their tillage operation.
We have invested heavily in a state-of-the-art seed processing plant in Belview Port, Waterford, which allows efficient seed processing of all grades of seed and application of new dressings, which will be more relied upon in the future.
Get ready for beans - plan for more beans (maybe other protein crops) in 2023. Simple things such as getting those fields to at least pH 6.5 and soil P levels to at least 6.5 ppm will greatly help bean yields. Get some organic manures on to those fields, as beans need 'the kindness of dung' more than cereals.
Start thinking carbon - which of your crops and fields are best suited to straw chopping? What crops yield the most straw to bale and sell? Hybrid barley and hybrid rye certainly make more sense if you want to produce and sell the most straw per acre.
Try some new crops (or try old ones again) - oilseed rape is included in the new straw scheme, which will change its economics. Do your sums on oilseed rape again. Do not forget the benefits of using slurry in August (no other crop can utilise it at that time), the break-crop benefit on following cereals and how handy it is to have 10% crops drilled before 1 September.
Seedtech offers spring and winter seed rape contracts, which offer an added premium in land that has not grown rape before.
Get good advice - how can you maintain and even increase profits with 'lower chemicals and fertilisers', as the EU has said is the future? Are there crops, varieties, or new ways of doing jobs that need to be trialled in 2021?
I have learned from advising farmers: I can only improve a grower's profits one to three years before the crop is grown, especially if we want to reduce inputs.
A few examples:
There are countless other examples but getting good advice is common to all.
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