Tillage farmers at the Irish Farmers Journal and Teagasc Crops and Crop Cultivation event in Oakpark last week shared their views on recent dry weather, input costs, the future of the sector and Government’s plan for its expansion.

While many reflected on a “bumper” year for tillage in 2022 due to high prices, most described the mix of current challenges for the sector as having cancelled this out.

Several farmers warned land availability pressures, driven by the dairy sector, and input costs, which continue to ride high, will hit the tillage sector hard this year.

Jim Fitzpatrick, Wexford

Wexford tillage farmer Jim Fitzpatrick.

“I’m growing mostly malting barley, with a bit of spring oats. Barley prices are not good for what we’re putting into it, the inputs anyway, the fertiliser, sure we have no say, the drying charge.

“The crops that were sown early are doing ok, but the later sown ones, they got the rain too late. They lost tillers, lost the two tillers, you’re going to have the one tiller up now and that’s it. Tonnage will be back a half tonne, more.

“That won’t happen. Not a hope. The dairy man the way they’re taking it, sure we can’t take land. How would you get any more?

“Maybe with the prices coming back, they’ll be settled too. I’m not begrudging them - sure if they were able to pay enough to get it. If we were making enough, we’d take it too.”

Austin Morrin, Carlow

Tillage farmers Austin and Ger Morrin at Crops 2023.

“Everything we started sowing from last back end has been working backwards really. In our area, a lot of spring crops that were sown late, they don’t look too hot. That’s the issue. Winter crops, they won’t be what they were last year, but they’re generally ok.

“We grow wheat, barley, beans, winter oats, spring oats, a very small bit of spring barley. We sow a few seed crops and stuff like that.

“[The beans] seem to have coped well over the last few weeks. The spring barley wasn’t established for the rain earlier on, so that’s the problem. A lot of spring barley, from what I can see, has shot up without tillering. The tonnage has to be back. I’d be surprised if it’s anyway different.

“There’s an awful lot of land pressure. I think it is possible if they were as imaginative for our sector as they were with others. It’s a pity because there is an awful lot of pressure.

“The biggest one I see is often the access to land for tillage operations in the short to medium term. That’s going to be a problem and I don’t see it changing.”

James Brennan, Wexford

Wexford tillage farmer James Brennan.

“We grow cereals, barleys, a bit of winter wheat and beans. Cereal area is back on barley, beans are up, fodder beets are up as well.

“Beet seems to be holding very well and looking well, looking exceptional, but it was probably going to run out of steam very quickly until the rain came. Beans are looking exceptionally well, anything that was middle or early sown. Late sown then wasn’t.

“Barley all looks well from the gate, but when you get into them, they all had their troubles, whether they were early sown or late sown and especially on lighter land, it was starting to show rings in the field and light patches.

“It’s hard to see [tillage expand] because the acres are not there and, at the current price, the farmers haven’t the drive to do that.

"When you’re talking cereals at €200/t, with high fertiliser prices and high lamb prices, it’s just hard to see how it’s going to happen.”

Roy Gill, Offaly

Offaly tillage farmer Roy Gill.

“I’m growing winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley and spring wheat. We’re currently finishing off T2 spraying on spring barley.

“It’s been very hard to get out spraying this year with the weather conditions. Spring crops suffered from drought, which will impact yields going forward. We will be looking at 2t/ac.

“Grain prices are the biggest concern for us this year as input costs were massive. Crops this year are the most expensive crops to ever go into the field.”

Philip Draper, Offaly

Philip and Ben Draper.

“We grow carrots, parsnips, beetroot, onions and potatoes. It’s been difficult between floods and drought conditions. It was too dry for crop emergence, so crops are uneven enough in germinating.

“Labour is a huge problem in horticulture - there is fewer people willing to do manual work on vegetable farms. We’ve had to automate a lot of jobs, such as weeding. It’s an investment, but it’s necessary.

Philip and Ben Draper.

“We need a fair price for our produce, the goal posts are moving further away all the time. There needs to be respect between the market and the farmer.

"Retailers engaging in price wars are especially harmful to the viability of fruit and vegetable farmers.”