While concerns over a poorer-than-expected harvest over much of continental Europe have been nudging grain prices up from contract lows in recent days, cereal growers have been bracing themselves for another year of poor returns.
But while it would be going too far to say that producers in this country have enjoyed a “Brexit bonus” over recent months, the fall in the value of sterling has provided a small degree of buffering for UK prices.
In Ireland, however, worries over the likely returns from this year’s harvest have led to calls for immediate moves from the government to save the sector from falling into a terminal decline.
Claiming that arable growers in the country faced losses in excess of €100 million, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) said that without political intervention on a number of fronts, the tillage sector was in imminent danger of collapse.
Chair of the organisation’s grain committee, Liam Dunne, said that Irish grain producers were facing the fourth year in a row where cereal prices had failed to cover growing costs – and said growers required the government to take “immediate and decisive” action to reverse the dramatic fall in incomes.
“Since 2012, the Irish cereal area has fallen by over 100,000 acres and this trend will accelerate unless there is a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for grain growers,” Dunne said.
He said that any further reduction in the cropping area would have major implications for the country’s livestock sector and for Ireland’s world-renowned drinks industry. The country’s agriculture minister, Michael Creed, should, he claimed, immediately convene a meeting of all stakeholders to secure a commitment from buyers to use native grains and support country’s cereal growers.
Dunne also identified a number of measures which he claimed were crucial to ensure the survival of crucial grain growing sector. He called for an immediate removal of EU fertiliser tariffs, a review of plant protection product pricing, priority access to low-cost loans for working capital, improved support measures and a reduction in the burden of complying with greening regulations.
“The EU Commission and the government cannot continue to ignore the gravity of the deepening income crisis on many tillage farms after four consecutive years of low grain prices below the cost of production, increasing costs and reducing direct/greening payments,” he said.
He also expressed anger at the quality of grain being imported, stating that it fell well below the standards which had to be met by Irish producers.