In my opinion, the recent AgriCare tillage conference helped to reset the ‘optimism’ button for farmers committed to growing crops in Ireland.

I know that 2023 has been a horrendous year for arable farming in this part of the world, but sometimes, it really is a case of looking at the bigger picture.

Firstly, last year saw tillage enjoying its most successful growing season in living memory.

The fundamental fact remains that Irish farmers can grow crops very successfully, assuming the weather plays even half fair.

As well as that, the opportunity for cereal growers to add real value to their crops continues to expand.

Take malting barley as a case in point. We can’t grow enough of the stuff.

With more Irish malting plants about to come on stream, the demand for home-grown malting barley looks set to increase at an exponential rate over the coming years.

Moreover, the premiums available for this specific cereal type are significant. Boortmalt is confirming that premiums above-feed price of €100/t were paid to growers in 2021 and 2022.

The challenge then becomes one of growers meeting the quality standards.

The poor weather put an end to these aspirations for many growers in 2023. However, the prospect of normal service being resumed in 2024 now beckons.

Potential growth for crops industry

Contract farming is another area of potential growth for tillage farmers. Producing seed standard crops is already an option for some growers. However, there is no reason why commercially produced crops cannot be grown on this basis.

Glenmore Farming Group, based in Ballybofey, Co. Donegal is a case in point.

Courtesy of its subsidiary operation, Connective Energy is managing a number of anaerobic digestion (AD) plants.

The output from these facilities includes green electricity, bio-gas, liquid carbon dioxide and digestate, which has been authorised as a fertiliser source on organic farms.

Looking to the future Glenmore is looking for farmers to grow crops, including hybrid rye, on a contract basis.

Recent years have seen a number of milk processers offer their farmer-suppliers with the opportunity to forward fix the price linked to a proportion of their milk supply.

Contract growing of crops works on the same principle: it gives growers a degree of certainty regarding the price that will be secured for a proportion of their output.

Taking the speculation out of farming is a good thing, for both the primary producer and processers.

This comes with the proviso, of course, that the prices on offer to the farmer make sense.