Watch: glasshouses destroyed but field veg safe from snow
Horticulturalists and vegetable and potato growers faced a range of impacts from Storm Emma.

Farmers with glasshouses and polytunnels bore the brunt of the recent bad weather, with many structures collapsing under the weight of the snow.

Several nurseries at Barnland, Gorey, Co Wexford were severely hit.

"It's bad enough to lose glass, but some of the structure is gone as well," said John Nangle, who lost more than half of his 2ac of glasshouses at the weekend.

"If the bars are bent, the glass won't go back in," he added, estimating the damage at €30,000 for which he did not have insurance. His nursery is now rented out – "this was my pension after the best part of 40 years," he told the Irish Farmers Journal.

Greenhouses collapsed under the weight of the snow at the nursery of John Nangle, Barnland, Gorey, Co Wexford. \ Picture courtesy of John Nangle

\ Picture courtesy of John Nangle

Horticulturalists must wait for the snow to melt before conducting a full survey of the damage because broken glass is still falling from the roofs and hiding under drifts on the floor.

John's neighbour Jim O'Connor of O'Connor Nurseries saw 4.5ac of glasshouses collapse under the weight of the snow. "Plants are lost too – glass shattered on top of them," he said. While his insurance covers some of the structure, the equipment and the bedding and pot plants inside were not insured.

"80% of our turnover would be in the next four months, with a peak in March and April," Jim said. The nursery's staff of 17 would normally go up to 40 with temporary workers at this time of year, but there is now nothing for them to do, he added. He now hopes to arrange temporary housing to continue growing and trading.

Blanket of snow protects fields

Vegetables grown in open fields were ironically less exposed to the elements where the snowfall was heaviest. Julian Hughes in Kells, Co Kilkenny harvested his unprotected carrots just before the storm.

"The rest was parsnips, which is less susceptible to frost, and carrots under straw," he said. The snow then provided a blanket insulating the vegetables from the frost.

"I prefer 30cm of snow than -10°C," Julian said.

His biggest headache was to find harvesting windows and keeping up with deliveries. Attention is now turning to field conditions, with ground preparation for pumpkins and for the next crop of carrots set to be delayed.

Potato frost

On potato farms the snow also offered protection and the risk of frost was highest in the northern half of the country where low temperatures hit the ground more directly. According to Teagasc potato specialist Shay Phelan, 1,000ac of potatoes remain to be dug nationwide and temperatures below -3°C or -4°C may have affected them.

The latest weather, however, has not yet had an impact on preparations for the next crop: "It will be the middle or end of this month before field work begins for the new season," said Shay.

Read more

Potato crops at risk of frost damage

Full coverage: Storm Emma

Sprouted grain flour – a potential market for Irish wheat?
Sprouted grain flour can have many advantages over conventional flour, but is there an opportunity for Irish growers to supply the market?

During an open day held in Teagasc Oak Park a number of weeks ago, students spoke with Lisa Larkin of Durrow Mills. Cofounded with her husband in 2015, Durrow Mills is a food ingredient company specialising in producing organic sprouted grain flour to the baking industry.

Having searched for bread which would be easier on the body’s digestive system, and with trends showing consumers moving to baked goods alternatives and organic food, they found that there was a real opportunity to produce organic sprouted grain flower.

Grain is first steeped in water and left to germinate. The germinated grain is then left to dry over a prolonged period of time. The dried grain is then processed through a stone mill to produce coarse or fine milled flour. The product is then sold at wholesale and retail level.

Lisa Larkin of Durrow Mills speaking at the recent Teagasc Oak Park open day.

Lisa explains that sprouted grains have been shown to be easier to digest. This is due to germination process in the grain breaking down many of the agents which are naturally present to prevent germination, and which can be sore on the digestive system. They also claim increased vitamin content, as well as higher levels of protein and fibre content versus conventional flour.

The sprouted grain flour market is predicted to grow eight fold in the US in the next number of years Lisa remarked. A similar trend can be seen in Europe, and the company is well placed to capitalise on that growth. The plan is to increase product range to include oats, quinoa and a number of others in the next year.

The company currently import their grain from organic sources, citing Ireland’s climate as the main reason why they can’t secure a viable supply of high-protein Irish grown wheat.

However, as members of Real Bread Ireland, the group is actively exploring the potential of using Irish grain for the baking industry, citing ongoing wheat trials in Kilkenny. This may yet prove to be a viable market for growers in the near future.

Read more

20 minutes with Charlie Hogg, Millstream Recycling

Your farm: organic cereals in demand

Listen: sugar beet co-op plan draws in tillage growers
Almost 150 growers turned up in Co Tipperary to hear Beet Ireland's proposal to revive the sugar beet industry in Ireland.

Construction of a new sugar beet processing plant will begin by 2022 if Beet Ireland can persuade at least 1,000 farmers to pay €1,000 each to kickstart a new co-op.

Beet Ireland wants growers to fund a new tillage co-op which would in turn invest in a beet company, along with Beet Ireland.

With €300m required to construct the new factory, funding would also be needed from other sources like bank debt and external investors.

Farmers who invest in the co-op would be purchasing shares in the new beet company.

Farmers who want to supply beet to the new company will be required to make a further investment of around €1,000/ac.

Almost 150 tillage farmers gathered in Cahir, Co Tipperary, last Thursday to hear Beet Ireland’s proposal to revive the country’s sugar beet industry. Many of the farmers were former sugar beet growers and contractors who had previously profitable beet enterprises.

Beet Ireland director Chris Harmon described the €1,000 co-op investment as a “small level of exposure” for farmers to restart Ireland’s sugar industry and potentially reap the benefits of the value-added side of sugar beet processing.

Listen to "Tipperary farmer at Beet Ireland meeting" on Spreaker.

Harmon added that “every cent” would be refunded to farmers who contribute if the target is not reached. The €1,000 per farmer will be held by the Irish Grain Growers, ITLUS (Irish Tillage Land Use Society) and the IFA until needed.

Beet Ireland chair Michael Hoey said he saw sugar as an enabler for other products such as polymers (plastics), bioenergy (ethanol) and as an organic chemical.

“Tillage farmers have always been the underdogs and it has got worse in recent years – we are price takers,” said Hoey.

“Now is the chance to put a proper Irish farmer brand on the shelves and there is a huge pharmaceutical industry in this country which is a big user of glucose products,” he said.

Many of the speakers called on tillage farmers present to emulate their dairy counterparts by embracing the co-op model.

Beet Ireland director and former IFA beet chair Jim O’Regan told farmers: “There is no future for tillage unless we get an anchor crop in the rotation to carry that industry.”

“Dairy farmers are quite prepared to pay for expansion, why not the same for tillage farmers?” he asked.

The scale

Beet Ireland expects the new plant at Ballyburn, Co Kildare, to process 1.4m tonnes of beet per year. This would produce 210,000t of sugar and 19m litres of bioethanol. It equates to 1,000 growers growing 1,400t of beet each. Based on a 70t/ha (28t/ac) crop, this amounts to 20,000ha (50,000ac) of sugar beet.

Where?

While Beet Ireland would aim to take in most of its beet from within a 60km radius of the Ballyburn factory, Michael Hoey described this as “more of a wishlist” to the Irish Farmers Journal and Jim O’Regan stressed that all interested growers would be considered. All haulage to the factory will be by contracted haulage, with no tractor and trailer deliveries allowed.

Price

Farmers who questioned what price sugar beet would be were told Beet Ireland “does not have the answer”. Elaborating, Chris Harmon said: “We don’t know what the price of barley will be next year or in five years’ time either. The price of sugar beet will be determined by factors like the global price of sugar, the business profitability and equity dividends.”

Farmer reaction

“It’s not often you get the opportunity to get back into an industry that we should never have lost. Tonight is a chance for farmers to see the business model, and to see the good, the bad and ugly of what is being proposed.”

– Tom Short, IFA South Leinster regional chair

“I’m a dairy farmer and I always used a lot of pressed pulp. I always saw the loss of sugar beet as a natural resource being thrown away. I’m here to support the industry, we’re all part of a cog in the wheel.

“My wife and I will consider paying the €1,000 even though we won’t grow sugar beet.”

- John Lukeman, dairy farmer, Donohill, Co Tipperary

“Some answers were too vague and not specific enough for us [contractors] as an industry to move into this new Beet Ireland regime.

“Contractors would be at the forefront of harvesting sugar beet because there is no economics in this scale for farmers to get involved [in harvesting].

“At 1,000 growers with 50ac each, that’s only two days’ harvesting.”

- John Hughes, agricultural contractor, Co Kilkenny

“My customers will want to know a price per tonne and how it’s going to be harvested and delivered from 50, 60 miles from the factory, whether it will be subsidised or not. At the moment it wouldn’t be profitable from Co Wexford without a price closer to €50/t.”

- Trevor James, contractor, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Listen to "Tipperary farmer at Beet Ireland meeting" on Spreaker.

“I’m a grower and contractor. We used to grow 70ac of beet. I would hope it would make a season out of our operation. I need to analyse it over the next while but I probably will give [the €1,000].”

- Tommy Prendergast, Dangan, Co Tipperary

Read more

Venue change for Beet Ireland meeting

Global sugar – the competition to beet

The sweet and sour of sugar beet growing in Ireland

Venue change for Beet Ireland meeting
The meeting was originally planned for Enniscorthy but will now be held in the Horse and Hound in Ballinaboola.

There has been a venue change for the Beet Ireland/IFA meeting that is scheduled for Wednesday 12 December.

The meeting was originally planned for Enniscorthy but will now be held in the Horse and Hound in Ballinaboola, Wexford. It will also take place at the later time of 8pm.

BEET Ireland has already held one meeting in Cahir, Co Tipperary last week where 150 tillage farmers gathered to hear proposals on reviving Ireland's sugar beet industry.

In order for the project to progress to the next stage, some 1,000 farmers will be needed to contribute €1,000 each to set up a new co-operative in partnership with Beet Ireland.