Tillage sector is doing a lot of good for the environment, but we need more support, says Laois farmer



A couple of years ago, Laois farmer Clive Carter asked some local beekeepers if they would place some beehives on his farm.

“We started growing OSR a couple of years ago and we wanted to get bees to help pollinate it, so I asked some local beekeepers if they would put in a few hives to help out,” Clive says.

“We found a quiet spot on the farm for the hives and it has worked out great for us all.

“The seven hives, home to around 40,000 bees, are managed by a local beekeeper and the bees love the crop, getting great honey from it. The rest of the time they are able to manage on the trees, ivy and weeds that are around, but the OSR - Oilseed Rape - gives them an extra few months of extra food.

“I had been advised to put in the hives when I bought the seed, as it’s pollinators that do the work.”

With the recent weather, harvesting on the farm has been at a lull in the past several weeks. “We’ve had a lot of heavy downpours and the winter barley is wrapped up, but there is still baling to be done.

“Most of the farm this year is in grass and we’re hoping to do a second cut of silage soon. We wrapped up the oats last week and were lucky as we got it before the heavy rain. The bushel was good, moistures were very good - in the region of 15.5/15.4 and the final yield is probably going to end up in the high 3-4t/ac.”

While he’s not involved in the straw-chopping scheme this year, he’s very supportive of it due to its environmental benefits.

“It adds a massive amount of organic matter to the soil and it takes a few years to get the benefits of it, but it’s great to improve the soil structure and help lower inputs.

“It’s an incredible scheme and I’d like to see it rolled over as it helps put a floor in the straw market too. But it is a scheme that will probably take a few years for the benefits to be fully realised. Tillage farmers need to be able to plan rotations two or three years down the line. For instance, anyone putting in OSR needs to know what they will be doing the following year.”

He’s happy with his OSR crop this year. Unlike the UK, which has been impacted by the cabbage stem flea beetle damaging emerging crops, the Irish harvest has been good.

“We don’t have it to that extent here, but it is a riskier crop to get established. Last year, I had an issue with late frost, which can impact it flowering in May. So it has its enemies, but it is a good crop in a rotation.

“It really helps the soil structure - it’s tap root digs down into the ground and breaks it up, so you save on inputs in the following crop and nutrients for the following crop, as well as reducing chemical resistance building up in other crops.

“It also allows nature a break, giving the ground a break, and acts as cover crop in the winter, helping with water retention. Because it flowers early, it’s a great crop for the bees when there isn’t much else.”

Clive, whose farm at Ratheniska has played host to much of the Ploughing Championships, is adamant that every single farm in Ireland is already carrying out environmental measures that are having a positive impact on the environment, but he’s concerned that too much stick and not enough carrot will turn farmers off.

“Every single farm has measures that would tick the box for an eco scheme - they just don’t realise it a lot of the time. I don’t think farmers get rewarded for the positive work they do, but there has been a shift in the mindset in recent years.

“A few years ago, tillage was seen as the ‘bad’ sector, but things have changed and now we are carbon-efficient and good for biodiversity and water quality. You know you are doing good work, but if you are being targeted, then you get cynical.

“You need to hear you are doing good for the environment and when you hear that, it’s natural to try focus more on it - a more carrot than stick approach would get more people involved. We need schemes that reward farmers well. If you want environmental results, you need to pay for it.

“But if we have to jump through too many hoops, and margins are razor tight, you will opt out of doing the scheme. Farmers want to look after the environment, but if you want results, you need a lot doing a little, more than a few doing a lot.”

Clive, who is on the CAP Consultative Committee, says more needs to be done to support the tillage sector as it will be hit badly through convergence.

“We have not been rewarded for the environmental work we have carried out over the past eight years. But the Department should use its flexibility to get more schemes under Pillar 2 for the tillage sector. We are probably sequestering more carbon that we are putting out, so it would be good to get that rewarded.”

Source – The Irish Independent