Support forest producer groups to boost bioenergy sector – IFA
Farmers with forestry offer the greatest potential to fuel the emerging bioenergy industry showcased at this Tuesday's Energy in Agriculture event, writes IFA forestry executive Geraldine O'Sullivan.

Approximately 40% of the total forest area in Ireland is owned and managed by farmers, with the majority of plantations reaching production in the coming decade.

Forecasts show that timber production is to grow from 3.1 million m3 in 2017 to 7.9 million m3 by 2035, with almost all of the increased volume coming from farmers.

The mobilisation of this resource is not without significant challenges. Many factors influence a farmer’s decision to harvest these, including the size of the forest, the level of bureaucracy, lack of knowledge, investment in infrastructure, available harvesting technologies, transportation, etc.

The IFA’s five-point plan to revitalise the farm forestry sector emphasised the importance of producer organisations to overcome some of the barriers to mobilisation.

The peer-to-peer support offered by producer organisations has proven to be hugely successful in mobilising private sector resource elsewhere in Europe.

Budget support

The IFA’s budget 2019 submission is looking for the introduction of supports for existing forest producer groups to help them create the necessary scale to optimise efficiencies in the supply chain and ensure the long-term sustainability of the group and supply.

Properly functioning forest producer organisations are the key to improving efficiency and building further capacity within the sector to satisfy the growing demand for biomass and ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector.

The IFA advocates a network of centralised biomass trading centre, regional service stations that supply top-quality wood fuels

If bioenergy generation is to become widespread, then biomass must be readily available and cost-competitive.

Currently in Ireland, the biomass market is informal and often supply and demand do not easily match.

To ensure an uninterrupted supply, as well as greater control in fuel quality, the IFA advocates a network of centralised biomass trading centre regional service stations that supply top-quality wood fuels, operated by forest producer organisations.

A centralised system would enable improved control of the procurement process.

Biomass could be stored at the centre and processed during the winter season when the demand for fuel is high and working conditions at the forest may be more difficult.

Supporting the establishment of the network of biomass trade and logistic centres offers farmers and rural communities significant new business opportunities to not just supply biomass, but to become heat contractors.

Read more

Turning trees into cash

Bright future for on-farm renewables

Lamb prices hit 10-year high in New Zealand
Adam Woods reports from New Zealand, where lamb prices are exceeding €4.80/kg for spring lamb.

New Zealand lamb producers are experiencing a 10-year high lamb price for new season lamb this October. The average lamb price for August was $8.50/kg (€4.85/kg) with $8.30 (€4.74/kg) now being paid for new season lamb.

This is the highest price paid in the past 10 years. Total lamb exports are estimated to be worth around $3.1 billion (€1.77 billion) in 2018-19.

Tighter supply from both Australia and New Zealand and growing global demand is increasing New Zealand export values. New Zealand’s export lamb production is forecast to decrease by 1.7% in 2018/19 due to a smaller lamb crop as a result of lower ewe numbers.

Mutton exports are also forecast to be down – by 17% – because of the smaller and younger breeding ewe flock. More ewe hoggets were retained for breeding this year reflecting farmer confidence.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s beef cattle herd grew by 1.9% to 3.68m head at 30 June 2018, the second small increase in a row after declining steadily since the 1990s. China now accounts for 33% of New Zealand’s red meat exports and is the largest export market by volume and value. A new report forecasts farm profit before tax to decrease 2.8% to $129,700 (€74,114) for 2018/19 on average for New Zealand sheep and beef farms.

Destination Belgium: Irish beef and sheepmeat gaining momentum
Phelim O’Neill explores markets for Irish agricultural produce in Belgium, while Darren Carty, Lorcan Allen and Stephen Robb examine the sheep, dairy and tillage sectors in Belgium and further afield.

When we think of Irish beef and lamb exports, the UK is the main destination for beef, and while it is a strong market for lamb, France is the country historically most associated with Irish lamb exports. With the UK market surrounded in uncertainty because of Brexit and falling lamb sales to France, development of alternative markets is a priority.

Belgium is currently an 8,000t annual beef market, according to Bord Bia, which makes it Ireland’s eighth most important beef export mark.

Approximately 4,000t of Irish sheepmeat is exported to Belgium annually, making it the fourth most important export market after France, Britain and Germany. This has been a consistently growing market since 2010 when our annual exports of sheepmeat were less than a third of 2018 levels.

Belgium production

Belgium is half the size of Ireland in terms of area but has double our population at 11 million people. It also has a strong agricultural sector with 2.5m cattle and 6.2m pigs in 2016 (Eurostat).

Slaughter data supplied by Statbel, the Belgian statistics agency, reported 920,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2017, which produced 282,000t carcase weight of beef, and just under 11m pigs were slaughtered, producing 1,040t of pigmeat carcase weight. That makes Belgium the eighth largest producer in the EU for both beef and pigmeat.

On dairy, Belgium produced 3,895m tonnes of milk in 2016 (Eurostat), which equals 3,781m litres. Belgium produces approximately one third as much milk as the island of Ireland does (10m litres) and approximately 40% of the cattle that are processed between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Consumption

Belgium residents consumed approximately 120,000t of beef in 2017 – just 40% of the 282,000t produced in the country. Belgium also imported 72,000t in 2017 (source: Bord Bia), which means it exported 234,000t of beef. This reflects the fact that Belgium is a high-value market which imported high-value steak meat cuts and exported the higher volume manufacturing beef from its own domestic production. Bord Bia estimates that 90% of Irish beef exports to Belgium go into the catering sector, with a relatively small share of the retail market.

On dairy, Belgium was a €64m market in the year to June 2018. Volume of dairy increased to 13,400t, up 9% on the previous year. This growth was driven by a massive surge in Irish exports of whole milk powder and skim milk powder, and lesser growth in higher value butter, cheese and infant formula.

Belgian retail

The retail sector has a preference for domestic production, with the Belgian Blue particularly famous. However, there is evidence that Irish beef is gaining traction. During a recent visit by the Irish Farmers Journal to the Ahold Delhaize store at Enghein, crowds of people were gathered around a Bord Bia cookery demonstration featuring Irish beef and Celtic Lamb.

Delhaize is the second largest retailer in Belgium and is on a refurbishment programme that is presenting Irish beef on a premium shelf – beside organic beef – while the mainstream Belgian-produced offering is presented on a different isle.

Similarly, their lamb offering is exclusively drawn from Ireland and Britain and presented under the Celtic Lamb label. This brand carries the Irish and British flags with the Irish flag having much greater prominence – perhaps an indication of Delhaize getting Brexit ready?

Belgium’s rise to becoming a solid market for sheepmeat exports

The emergence of new markets for sheepmeat exports has been vital to compensate for lower sheepmeat exports to the French and UK markets. Growth in exports to new or emerging markets has been impressive with Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, among others, developing as important destinations for Irish lamb.

The added bonus along with importing significant volumes of sheepmeat is that these outlets are all high-value markets with opportunities for primal and higher value cuts along with choice carcase exports.

Volume increase

If we take a closer look at Belgium, the volume of Irish sheepmeat exports has trebled over the last decade with imports in the last three years performing steadily and surpassing 3,000t, with a value in the region of €24m to €25m. The latest export figures for January to July 2018 show exports to Belgium holding steady at 2,040t. The fact that total export volumes for January to July reduced 15.7% to 26,118t on the back of tighter supplies this spring underlines the importance of the market.

The Belgian market has a consumer base of 11 million people, with over one million of Muslim faith. As is the case across Europe, consumer retail and cooking trends are continually changing. Roasting cuts such as legs of lamb are no longer the cut of choice and are reserved for special or celebratory occasions, with lamb also a popular offering on restaurant menus. The cut of choice is lamb cutlets or chops but alternative products such as sausages, burgers and skewers are also growing in popularity. While the market has also reduced, there is still significant butcher demand for well-conformed carcases.

Problems for Belgian producers

Belgium has a small sheep sector, which has been plagued in recent years by bluetongue disease and the Schmallenberg virus. As such, the market is reliant on sheepmeat imports, with consumers happy that Irish and UK sheepmeat is a high-quality product that is not displacing domestic produce.

Irish lamb has grown its market share over the last decade with two factors greatly helping our cause.

Lower volumes of New Zealand sheepmeat coming into the EU market opened up export opportunities, while the acquisition by Irish Country Meats of Belgium’s premier processing plant, A Lonhienne, in 2011 has helped to develop solid trading avenues.

Promotional work by Bord Bia and other sheepmeat factories is also reaping rewards.

Dairy: milk production in the southern hemisphere building up

Milk production in the southern hemisphere is building just as demand for dairy is dropping back somewhat.

As we move into the final quarter of 2018, milk production across Europe winds down to its seasonal low. Right now, dairy commodity prices are in retreat as milk supply pressure builds in other parts of the world, most notably New Zealand and South America.

Supply

On the supply side, milk flows are building. In New Zealand, milk production is up almost 6% in the first three months (June to August) of the 2018/19 season. Kiwi farmers are now moving into peak months for production, and barring a significant weather event, continued strong supply figures will keep a lid on dairy markets in the final quarter of 2018.

In Europe, the milking season is winding down but markets are still digesting how much of an impact the summer drought actually had on milk supplies. Dutch milk production has fared the worst, falling 3% for August and 4.5% for September. However, milk production in France and the UK was down less than 1% in both countries for August. Eurostat is yet to publish figures for August and September milk production in Germany, which is Europe’s largest producer.

In Ireland, August milk production was up 4% year on year, while an Irish Farmers Journal survey pegs September milk collections as being up more than 10% on last year. US milk production is running ahead of last year by 1%.

Demand

On the demand side, uncertainty is growing. The heightening trade tensions between the US and China, not to mention the uncertainty around Brexit, is denting market confidence. Fuelled by the World Cup in Russia, dairy demand was exceptionally strong in the first half of 2018, particularly for cheese. Tight supplies of butter also saw cream and butter prices shoot to record highs once again in 2018.

However, prices have been in retreat for the last month, with milk powder prices particularly weak.

The biggest positive on the demand side right now is a rebounding oil price. With Brent crude oil prices trading steadily above $80/barrel, this should reinforce the buying power of oil economies that are key to global dairy export trade accounting for 30% of all milk powder demand.

Outlook

Dairy commodity prices are certainly under downward pressure right now, which could feed through to lower farmgate milk prices. However, European markets will get a chance to breathe over the winter months and demand could be renewed come 2019. New Zealand farmers will have a big role to play in how market sentiment looks next year.

Tillage: global maize harvest offsetting a difficult season for wheat

The forecast for global grain production (wheat and coarse grains) in 2018/19 has now been revised upwards by nine million tonnes (mt) from 2,063mt to 2,072mt. Despite this revision, however, this forecast will still represent a second consecutive annual decline in global grain production as increased output from maize (+27mt) and sorghum (+1mt) is being outweighed by reductions for other crops, namely wheat.

After a difficult growing season in a number of regions, wheat production is expected to be down by 41mt, while the smallest barley harvest in six years is expected to be recorded.

Ongoing weather concerns in Canada, Europe and Australia are affecting harvesting, planting and crop development respectively, which is helping to sustain current grain prices.

However, as expected, global maize output was yet again revised upwards – the US at +6.1mt, EU at +2.7mt and Ukraine at +1.2mt – which is in part offsetting the losses in global wheat and barley output.

Soya still on track for bumper year

Prospects of a record soya bean crop in the US, Canada and China increased the projection for 2018/19 world soya bean output by 4mt. It is now expected to peak at 370mt, a 9% increase from last year. Despite a very challenging year for oilseed rape production, 2018/19 out is expected to remain largely unchanged at 603.9 mt.

Your farm: Farming for Nature Project open for public votes
The public are being asked to vote for six shortlisted farmers for the 2018 National Farming for Nature Award.

Members of the public, and in particular the farming community, are being asked to vote for one of six shortlisted farmers as their top choice for the 2018 National Farming for Nature Award. The prestigious award is part of a wider independent initiative (www.farmingfornature.ie) which hopes to source, share and celebrate the stories of those farmers across Ireland who are doing great things for nature on their land and in their community. The purpose of the award, organisers say, is to shine a light on some of the many positive stories of how farmers interact with nature and perhaps inspire other farmers to follow suit by taking on simple measures to help nature on their farm.

From an initial long list of farmers, nominated by over 150 environmental professionals, a shortlist of six farmers has been compiled by a panel of judges. A five-minute film has been made about each shortlisted farmer and now the public are being asked to view the films and vote for their favourite one, with the winner to be announced at a special event on Saturday 27 October in Kinvara, Co Galway.

This week, we are profiling three of these farmers with a further three to follow next week.

Donal Sheehan

Donal, along with his wife Ita and two children farm a 70-cow dairy herd on Blossom Farm near Castlelyons, in the Bride valley, Co Cork. While Donal runs what would at first be considered a ‘typical’ intensive farm, he has a keen interest in farming in a more nature-friendly way. As he puts it: “We try to push the boat out all the time trying to make farming around here more sustainable.” He dedicates a proportion of his farm to biodiversity including ponds, pollinator strips and wild bird cover for overwintering birds. He keeps bees and farms with these in mind minimising herbicide use. He doesn’t cut hedges and has energy-saving devices on his milking machines. Donal believes farmers can make a huge difference in improving biodiversity, lowering their carbon footprint and improving the quality of our water. Such is his conviction and vision, that he is one of the main drivers of an innovative new pilot project called The BRIDE (Biodiversity Regeneration In a Dairying Environment) Project which rewards farmers for delivering measurable improvements in biodiversity over a five year period. Donal is a very eloquent advocate for, and exponent of, farming for nature.

Martin Calvey

Martin lives in Keel, Co Mayo with his wife Angela. They have eight daughters and two sons and have farmed on Achill Island for seven generations. Martin farms a herd of 150 blackfaced mountain sheep on his shareholding of an extensive (20,000ac) commonage, as well as on an area of machair (a rare seaside habitat). These Mayo blackfaced ewes have been kept on this farm for many generations and are perfectly adapted to grazing the mosaic of protected habitats, from mountain to seashore, where they play a key role in maintaining local biodiversity. Martin is also a master butcher and he and his family have since 1962 run the only abattoir on Achill Island.

The Calveys sell their trademarked ‘Achill Mountain Lamb’ from their local shop as a high-quality food product, one which has won numerous awards and is the choice of many top chefs through the west of Ireland, including Ashford Castle. Martin is a champion of good environmental management, a member of the local ‘custodians of the commonage’ group who helps ensure the land is properly cared for, as well as a great advocate for the link between habitat management, local food production and the added ecosystem and financial value that can result. As his daughter Martina says: “We respect nature, we work with it and it rewards us very well.”

Padraig Corcoran

Padraig and his wife Bernadette, along with their four children, have a cattle and sheep enterprise on their holding in Mount Plunkett, near Lough Ree, Co Roscommon. Padraig manages a 54-acre section of an old estate, which he and his family run as a nature reserve, composed of diverse range of tillage, grassland, woodland and wetland. He has restored woodland, planted new hedgerows, dug ponds, installed bat and bird boxes and restored wetland areas for breeding waders of conservation importance by clearing encroaching scrub.

He has established plots for wild birds and used seed mixes that are optimum for biodiversity. Padraig is very knowledgeable and keen to advocate for getting the best for biodiversity from his landscape. A modest man, he claims: “We don’t do anything special, just care for what’s there. Farming is about being sensitive and compassionate to the environment that we are working in.”

Padraig is very passionate about sharing his story with others: he has hosted numerous guided walks, courses and other events and has featured on RTÉ’s Eco Eye and Ear to the Ground.

About the awards

The national Farming for Nature Award is an independent initiative which is sponsored by An Bord Bia and supported by a wide range of farming and conservation interests including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the National Rural Network, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Irish Farmers Association, the National Biodiversity Data Centre, Teagasc, the Irish Farmer’s Journal and the Heritage Council. The deadline for votes is midnight Thursday 25 October 2018. Go to www.farmingfornature.ie to watch the videos of these inspiring farmers or contact info@farmingfornature.ie for more information.