This week, Russia announced significant frost damage to its wheat crop and some curtailment of its exports.

As we have noted before, Russia is now the largest wheat exporter in the world.

However, as the international wire services noted, the official announcement allows Russian farmers to claim weather-related crop damage insurance.

Similarly in the United States, about 87% of crops are covered by weather or income insurance.

In a recent submission to government, the tillage sub-group of the Food Vision Strategy unanimously recommended that a similar concept be implemented here if we wished to help to safeguard our tillage sector against the wild swings in weather and market returns.

The widely representative group also recommended an annual payment to tillage farmers that recognised the damage done to the sector by the lopsided allocation of payments that came from the last CAP.

The other two key recommendations from the group were:

  • The development of a slurry swapping mechanism between high nutrient producing dairy farms and tillage farms with capacity to absorb organic manure.
  • A monetary recognition of the value of the very low carbon emissions from tillage farming in an Irish context, as well as aiming to increase prices to growers by targeting premium markets.
  • The main premium market to emerge in the last few years is in the drinks sector both brewing and distilling. Both are returning premiums over commodity prices. The option of having a more rigorous specification as regards using Irish grain should be considered much the same as in Baileys Irish Cream which has to use cream of Irish origin.

    As regards a new Irish milling wheat industry producing conventional flour suitable for white bread looks unlikely but niche high value products such as specialist brown bread mixes should be encouraged.

    Holy grail

    But the holy grail is to try and achieve what has been done in the case of milk where whey has been transformed from being a relatively worthless biproduct to a high value output in its own right. Work is taking place on the cereal side on this area but it is slow in yielding results.

    A key objective should be attempting to get an effective quality assurance scheme off the ground that gives an extra return to participating farmers as in the dairy and beef sectors.

    This will involve real co-operation between the existing well-operating IGAS scheme and Bord Bia and to get this reflected in a bonus payment for the use of Irish grain in standard feed products. This will involve intensive talks with the compounding industry.

    I was honoured to be asked to chair such a representative and committed group, which was also excellently serviced by a core of capable civil servants.

    While the report has been submitted to government, it would be a pity if it were left to gather dust as the party political machines prepare for the looming general election.