Horn versus corn– why all the fuss?

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Co Down cereal grower Allan Chambers has kick-started a debate regarding the real value of cheap cereals to agriculture as a whole in Northern Ireland.

“Grain is now an internationally traded commodity,” he told Farming Life.

“The reality is that grass is the cheapest source of feed available to the vast majority of the livestock reared on local farms. However, it is only when cereals are expensive, in that truly international sense, that the value of our grass-based production systems becomes apparent.

“It is also a myth, in my opinion, that cheap cereals help make our intensive sectors more competitive on international markets. And this is because of the fixed transport and handling charges entailed in getting grain here in the first place. After all we are, and will remain, a cereals deficient region.

“It costs approximately £20 per tonne to transport wheat or barley from the main cereal growing regions of the UK and Europe to this part of the world. So if grain is trading internationally at £100 per tonne, these additional handling charges will put an extra 20% on the cost incurred by local compounders and farmers. However, if grain is making £200 on world markets, the aforementioned additional charges put an extra 10% on to the final costs incurred here in Northern Ireland. So in relative terms, the local intensive sectors are proportionately better off at those times when international cereal prices are increasing.”

The award winning cereal producer went on to point out that retail food prices will also act to compensate farmers for enhanced input costs over a period of time.“So there is absolutely no clash of interest involving livestock and grain farmers here in Northern Ireland, when it comes to assessing the impact of cereal prices on their respective businesses.”

Mr Chambers (pictured) made these comments against the backdrop of the upcoming CAFRE: Ulster Arable Society Annual Conference, taking place at the college’s Greenmount campus on Tuesday January 13th. The event will focus on the impact of the new CAP support arrangements for the tillage sector.

“A major change to the current system will be that 30% of the new payment will relate to complying with three new greening criteria on land categorised as arable land,” he commented.

“The first greening criteria, which relates to the retention of permanent pasture, should not be an issue in Northern Ireland where 90% of land is permanent grassland, provided that there is no significant conversion of land to arable uses at regional level. Given previous trends this would appear to be unlikely.

“However two other greening criteria, namely crop diversification and provision of an “ecological focus area may have a significant impact on arable farm businesses. For this reason it is essential that individual arable farmers consider the implications of greening elements in detail and plan well in advance of 2015.”