It’s essential that we know how much our crops are costing to grow.

Once farmers have this calculation done, they can set a pricepoint to sell grain at. They can assess if they need to change the crops, that they are growing, and can alter input choices to change profit margins.

Each year, Teagasc publishes cost and returns figures for tillage crops.

While you may not agree with all of the figures in these tables, it provides a really good guide for growers and you can alter the figures to your own costs.

Machinery costs are based on contractor charges in the tables. This is an area where many farmers will no doubt say their costs are much lower than those noted.

However, many farmers are using contractors to complete some or all of their work, and these are the best figures to place in the tables from an accuracy point of view.

In this week’s pages, the Teagasc tables published for cereals and break crops are included. These tables were finalised in January.

For cereal crops, a second table is included, which has been updated by the Irish Farmers Journal with more recent fertiliser prices and grain prices.

Fertiliser prices are noted under Tables 2 and 4.

Break-even yields

Grain prices in Table 3 are based on current price indications for native dry grain for November minus €30/t for drying and handling to give a green price estimate of €185/t for wheat and €175/t for barley in.

These prices are purely for indication purposes and will change between now and harvest. However, it does allow us to examine where yields need to be at those prices.

Unfortunately, the picture is not good. For example, if prices do not improve, it means farmers need to reach a yield of 3t/ac for spring feed barley to break-even.

This is bang on the five-year average yield of spring barley in Ireland and well above the average yield in 2023 of 2.6t/ac.

At the last fixed price offer from Boortmalt of €240/t, growers who manage to get their malting barley to pass would need an average yield of 2.2t/ac to break-even.

At the January fertiliser and grain prices in Table 1 of €210/t for wheat and €200/t for barley, a farmer would need a yield of 2.7t/ac on spring barley and 2t/ac on malting barley.

Cutting costs

As written in previous weeks’ papers, if your winter cereal crops are poor, you need to carry out plant counts and cut your spending on inputs accordingly.

Those crops are limited in potential. However, we should not limit the potential of spring crops, unless field conditions and establishment are poor.

If you look at herbicide and fungicide costs, for example, they are small in the scheme of things.

Getting timings right when spraying will help to keep efficient rates, but cutting products or rates to try and save money, leading to poor management, could reduce your yield and income more than the cut in spending.

Break crops

At a minimum price of €250/t (available from some buyers), beans look like a very good break crop option, with a break-even yield of 1.7t/ac and a protein payment to come as well to provide some insurance.

Oilseed rape is also a good option. The break-even yield is just 1.6t/ac. Yields of 1.8 to 2.2t/ac are very achievable on new varieties of oilseed rape.

Maize and beet

If you are looking at crops like maize and beet, you must have a market in place for that product before you grow it and an agreement in place with the buyer.

The maize figures do not include the cost of film, so film costs need to be added where used and yield adjusted accordingly.

Land rental

Land rental figures are not included for any of these crop costs and returns. This is going to be your biggest cost.

If you manage to get 3t/ac of spring barley on owned land, you are only breaking even, so land rental comes into question for many of the crops displayed.