Farmers have rarely, if ever, been financially exposed to the rising costs of inputs, as they are now.
Some farmers met across the country at the Teagask Spring Crop Walk have taken steps to reduce this risk by forwarding grain.
They have sold at various prices, many of which now look bad, although the decision at the time seemed prudent.
Some have said they are going to sell something but Waiting for grain to reach a certain price before selling it can be a dangerous game because it may never reach that price.
To my surprise, many people have done nothing and wait until the harvest to see what price they will get for their crops.
It’s very risky indeed, but I can understand that farmers are reluctant to sell again if they were burned before.
But in this uncertain time, with so many factors affecting the market, there is no guarantee that prices will not drop.
Some farmers expect prices to remain high until 2022, but are concerned about the prospect of even higher prices and a fall in grain prices next year.
Most are talking of taking advantage of the forward prices that would be available if drilling and selling a portion of the crop to at least cover fertilizer and seed costs.
Oilseed rape, with upfront prices of over €700/t for the crop 2023, looks particularly attractive.
There are other options that farmers can use to reduce costs and reduce risk, starting with crop choice.
Beans, oats and spring barley are cheaper to grow than winter wheat and winter barley.
Also, crops grown after harvest generally have less disease pressure and require less nitrogen.
Organic manure can also reduce the amount of artificial fertilizers needed, and an increasing number of farmers are equipped to apply slurry to winter crops in the spring to maximize their effect.
The choice of varieties also plays a role in reducing costs: crops that have good straw characteristics and disease profile will be cheaper to grow.
For example, the winter wheat variety Bennington is prone to yellow rust, which can increase the cost of the fungicide to €40–50/ha.
Cover cropping is a good way to trap nutrients in the soil that remain after harvest as well as help improve soil structure – reducing costs in next year’s spring crops.
Straw chopping schemes can recycle phosphorus and potassium in the soil, again reducing the cost of fertilizer.
Once you sow a crop there is only so much you can do after that to reduce input before it affects yields, so plan early.
Another issue that raised its head in the meetings was the new Nitrates Directive. (SI 113 of 2022 if you want to see it), which was signed into law in March. Two new rules for tillage farmers (pages 20 and 23) who are raising concerns.
Firstly, the requirement is to cultivate stubble on all the land after harvesting this year. Farmers are required to do shallow tillage or sow the crop in the soil within seven days of rolling of straw.
Where straw is harvested, re-shallow cultivation or sowing should be done within seven days of harvest. Cultivation or sowing should be done within 14 days of harvest in all cases.
The idea of this measure is to prevent nitrates from leaking into groundwater or surface runoff of phosphorus into water bodies.
The second issue involves late harvests (eg beet, potato, maize) or late spring cereal cropsWhere there should be a buffer of minimum 6 meters to protect any intersecting watercourses, to prevent contamination.
While these new rules will put more pressure on growers during very busy times, failure to comply with them could put your single farm payment at risk.
Shay Phelan is a Teagasque crop and potato specialist based in Oak Park, Co Carlo.