The announcement of the €40/acre for planted crops made at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis is an acknowledgement of the weather difficulties of this particular crop season, with difficult autumn sowing and an extraordinary spring.

The establishment of the Food Vision tillage group to take a much more long-term look at the viability and potential of the sector last autumn rightly identified that a more fundamental appraisal of the place of tillage in Ireland is needed.

I was honoured to be asked to chair the widely representative group that the minister asked to participate. While ultimately the decision of what to implement is up to the minister and Government a number of key facts emerged that will inevitably influence policy.

Grain yields

Despite us consistently having among the highest grain yields in the world, at least in a normal year, the acreage under crops is slipping, the demise of the sugar beet industry and the difficulty of growing high-value, high-quality milling wheat removes two of the traditional routes to profitability, while the influence of the nitrates regulations has incentivised dairy farmers to rent extra land to allow them to maintain milk output.

For a sector so dependent on rented land to achieve commercial scale, this has emerged as a major constraint.

From a national point of view, the carbon efficiency of tillage farming versus livestock, as well as its capacity to absorb surplus nutrients from intensive dairy farms, eases both emissions and nitrates.

High-value markets

Economically high-value markets are developing, especially in the drinks sector but also new outlets for specialised oats, etc.

However, the bulk of the production still goes for animal feed where it competes with the cheapest products from all over the world.

A key challenge will be to justify a premium for Irish-produced grain, while having consistent high yields meeting recognised quality criteria.

A year like this pinpoints the variability of product prices and tillage farm incomes.

I was unaware that 87% of United States grain output is covered by some form of price/income protection scheme.

Sixty-five per cent of the insurance premium is paid by the US government and 35% is paid by the grower.

With increasing weather variability, some form of income stabilisation scheme is going to be a priority.