Cereal growers and arable farmers in Northern Ireland are deeply concerned about the recent slippage in grain prices and the prospect of growing crops this year using high cost inputs.

This scenario is the backdrop for the 2023 ‘Agronomy and Business conference for Arable Growers’, taking place today (Tuesday, January 31) at the Greenmount campus of the College of Agriculture, Food And Rural Affairs (CAFRE) in Co. Antrim.

Robin Bolton, senior crops development adviser with CAFRE, told the conference of cereal growers: “Over the last 12 months growers have been able to manage high input costs on the back of strong grain prices.

“This will not be the case in 2023. So, it’s important that arable farmers are provided with a comprehensive update on the latest grain and commodity market trends.

“It’s then a case of working out how best to manage these developments at farm level,” he added.

Grain prices

The conference has been jointly organised by CAFRE, the Ulster Arable Society and Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

“It’s important that arable growers are provided with an update on current agronomy and business management issues at this time of the year,” Bolton added.

According to the CAFRE advisor, most crops sown out last autumn in Northern Ireland are looking well.

“Some late-sown fields took a hit from the very wet weather and the subsequent frost. But, for the most part, crops are ready to kick on,” Bolton stated.

“There has been an increase in the area of oilseed rape sown out over the last few years and this year was no exception.

“These crops were sown at a time when both ground conditions and the weather were very suitable. As a consequence, establishment rates were very good.

“The strong prices for oilseeds and protein at the present time are driving the push towards crops like rape,” he added.

2022 growing season

Reflecting on the 2022 growing season, Bolton confirmed that Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) had been a challenge in Northern Ireland, although maybe not as bad as further south.

“But Take-all was an issue in both barley and wheat last year and some of this was not fully recognised,” he said.

Approximately 30,000ha of combinable crops were grown in Northern Ireland during 2022. That’s down from a figure of around 40,000ha a decade ago.

While Robin Bolton buys-in to the principle of expanding Northern Ireland’s tillage area, he believes that squaring this circle could be a hard enough task to achieve.

“There’s very strong competition for land at the present time,” he concluded.

“Grass has become the predominant crop in Northern Ireland. This reflects the relative strength of the dairy and livestock sectors.”