While the politicians might be assessing the merits of the shifting electoral boundaries, farmers are talking more and more about Ministerial and Department indecision and shifting income. Tillage farmers are still extremely busy wrapping up the 2023 harvest. Many won’t have had time to thrash out the economics of the 2023 harvest laid bare by Siobhan Walsh this week.
We have been closely following this year’s harvest blow-by-blow, yet there seems to be a semi-muted outcry for tillage farmers that have invested considerably to try and produce food for consumers.
These farmers took on all the risk and investment, yet they get none of the reward. Preliminary estimates suggest they are losing at least €200/ha on spring barley grown on owned land rising to a loss of €380/ha on rented land. Similar numbers on wheat.
You might ask what’s different to any other year, but the fact of the matter is that the sector is being chipped away at all year.
Among the reasons are exceptionally high input costs, leased land cost skyrocketing, nitrates buffer rules reducing the field area, poor weather causing quality issues and losses while international prices collapsed.
If it was a shoe shop or a butcher, the doors would have been closed long ago, but family farms are more resilient. Thankfully after a month of limbo, the lie-back and forage crop U-turn was delivered.
There is also a perception developing that less and less of these big tillage and indeed dairy farms are family farms. However, many if not most of the largest farms in Ireland are keeping two and three generations of families going, plus more.
Ask any specialist tillage family farm with 70 to 100 hectares losing €200 to €400/hectare how they are going and very quickly you will get a very clear message.
The next most frustrated grouping are farmers dependent on the ANC and BISS payment, some of whom are now only learning it will be the middle of October before they are paid in 2023. This is causing a lot of anxiety and stress at farm level for those very dependent on what was normally a September payment.
Try telling any farmer with loan repayments, college fees, school fees and rising costs at farm level that payment will be delayed.
Very clearly, the minister is not keeping promises or sticking by the rules made on getting grant aid out to farmers looking to invest on-farm. In parallel, the regulations are getting tighter. Farmers that made grant applications in February are none the wiser as we approach the year end, and the close of the on-farm building window.
Similarly, any talk of derogation and nitrates is met with frustration by many farmers. Most farmers don’t know where they stand on organic nitrogen and phosphorus for 2023, or whether the derogation matters for them or not, and yet transfer slurry deadlines will be closed within weeks. It beggars belief this simple online facility is not available.
On the nitrates derogation moving from 250kg/ha to 220 kg/ha, it is potentially the most damaging policy change to grassland farmers in the last twenty years. The financial implications for family farm businesses and the industry are huge.
The benefits to the enviornment of this stocking rate reduction are not at all clear.
Meanwhile, in the next four months, farmers are expected to make decisions on purchasing stock, selling culls and taking on land. Far from a dairy only issue, the lower nitrates derogation threshold is already having clear and direct effects on all farms.
The despondency among farmers that want to participate in forestry but who, for one reason or another can’t get going again, builds frustration.
It’s nigh on a year since Ministers McConalogue, Heydon and Hackett stood outside Leinster House to much fanfare at a €1.3 billion announcement for the forestry sector.
Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council Marie Donnelly called it out this week on national radio, suggesting an announcement is one thing, but State aid approval only came at the end of July and the sectoral ceiling for Land Use is still not set up.
Taking into account the forestry State aid, Professor Gerry Boyle suggests looking at farmer returns for a forestry sector for 15 to 20 years simply isn’t good enough. Under current rules, that land must stay in forestry forever.
The minister will highlight 46,000 farmers in ACRES, the new environmental scheme, as a win for farmers.
However, again I have farmers showing me dockets where, in net terms, this environmental payment has effectively halved compared to the GLAS programme they are just finishing up.
Clearly decisive action is needed from the minister on a number of fronts or farmer frustration is set to boil over.