The straw shortage reported by Declan O’Brien cannot come as a surprise to anyone given the awful season gone by.
Rain last October resulted in a massive reduction in winter cereal area. Winter barley, an important crop for straw, declined in area by 20,000ha. We have long flagged this was going to be a problem.
Then we had a delayed sowing campaign in the spring, and a dry May and June resulting in poor crop yields, followed by a wet harvest and a dramatic drop in yields.
The same scenario is happening again this year. Elsewhere, Siobhán Walsh reports that winter barley planting is down 90% in Co Wexford. Overall winter cereal area is down again this season.
Crops are not emerging, and tillage farmers are in a real crisis financially and looking at unharvested cereals, potatoes and beet.
Imported straw and blackgrass seeds will only add to this situation. It’s hard to believe that nothing has been done to add this weed to the noxious list, and that tillage has not received any improvement on the €11/ac payment.
One thing that must be made clear is that the straw chopping scheme has been positive for the tillage sector and is not the main reason behind the massive drop in straw supply. The €15m must be maintained to keep stability in the sector.
The timing of the recent trips by Irish ministers to Southeast Asia was particularly unfortunate, because when they arrived back in Ireland there were fewer export markets open than before they left.
That, however, is probably missing the point of ministerial trade missions like the ones to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Much of the work around getting trade deals done and gaining market access is done at a technical level, involving detailed discussions about the minutiae of specifications and terms, conducted by Government experts far away from the glare of the media.
Introducing the minister to the discussion is often little more than a way to move discussions onto the next round. We saw this in Korea and Malaysia in the last few weeks.
Negotiations over access to beef to South Korea had reached a political stumbling block. The introduction of the minister to discussions showed Ireland is serious about getting the deal done, and sure enough the political speed bump was overcome and the next round of technical discussions can proceed.
It was a similar story in Malaysia for poultry market access.
Ministerial trips are not always about announcing major trade deals, and some may even be seen as a waste of time, but it is clear that without them, there would be far fewer trade deals completed for Irish agri-food products.