For too long, the CAP rewarded farmers for inefficiency, but new post-Brexit schemes should help farmers to improve profitability and embrace innovation, says John Henning, County Armagh beef farmer.
Autumn is rapidly giving way to winter here, with a distinct deterioration in the weather over the past three weeks, compounding the ongoing reality of Covid-19 which continues to affect all our lives.
We harvested winter barley on time, completed third cut silage in late August and planted next year’s barley on September 30.
All cattle were housed last weekend, with the best of our April born calves reaching 370 kgs and all bulls and heifers (born April - June) averaging almost 280 kgs.
Clipping, drenching and weaning were completed at housing, so we will endeavour to avoid our neighbours over the next week or so…
Despite farming on a small, part-time basis with a herd of pedigree cattle, every effort is made to improve efficiency and utilise innovation, with a particular focus on grassland management and commercial traits in the herd.
Over recent years we have successfully introduced rotational grazing, calving heifers at two-years-old, focused on a tighter calving season, used AI to improve calf management and introduced increased milk and better udder traits in our cows.
This year, we have also soil tested 60 per cent of the farm and introduced a third cut of silage to improve grass performance and silage quality.
If we look around at many other farms, we see the adoption of innovation and the latest research findings, with impressive levels of farm management and many enthusiastic farmers across Northern Ireland keen to learn and adopt fresh thinking, as evidenced in the excellent ‘attendances’ at recent industry webinars to deliver leading-edge knowledge exchange for farmers.
It is also great to see processors increasingly involved in such knowledge exchange.
But sadly, the adoption of innovation is not widespread on all farms, with some still focused on farming for subsidy rather than profit.
With ample evidence to the contrary, surely making first cut silage in September, calving heifers at three years old, poor grassland management and non-existent weed control does not benefit individual farmers, the environment or consumers.
But payment this morning of the 2020 Basic Payment Scheme (100 per cent of payment for Northern Ireland) doesn’t recognise efficiency and the adoption of innovation.
For too long, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) across the EU rewarded inefficiency, as farmers chased higher acreages and increased livestock numbers instead of profitability and bottom line performance.
Perhaps these factors, coupled with onerous legislation and bureaucracy driven by the CAP, encouraged many farmers to support Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum, so it will be important that the Brexit achieved in 2021 delivers for them.
Time will tell whether the Brexit we get actually rewards improved efficiency and innovation, but the ability to do so should be in our own hands.
And we should always remember that when the UK leaves the EU, our farming industry will still be at the forefront in feeding the nation and coping with the vagaries of the weather.
John can be found tweeting at @johnhenningmoo