Newly-elected IFA Grain Committee chairman Mark Browne is committed to working for the betterment of tillage farmers during his four-year term.
Mark, who farms over 300 hectares of cereals, oilseeds and protein crops in conjunction with his brother Garrett in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, succeeded Kildare man Liam Dunne in the chair on Friday, January 12 last. He was elected unopposed after previously serving on the National Grain Committee as a representative for Wexford. The vice-chairman is George Mason from Tipperary, while Fintan Conway from Westmeath is executive secretary.
The National Grain Committee represents Ireland’s 13,000 cereal growers with its members being elected by the IFA’s 25 county executives. The most important issues include feed grains, peas, beans and oilseed prices and malting barley premium. The Committee was instrumental in developing price risk management tools for malting barley growers to minimise grain price volatility.
Describing himself as a “100 per cent tillage farmer”, Mark dries and stores much of his own grain, but also produces significant quantities of premium crops such as malting barley, milling wheat and oats. Prior to the closure of Irish Sugar, he was a significant sugar beet grower.
“We grow winter barley, winter wheat, winter oats, winter oilseed rape, spring malted barley, spring feed barley, spring beans and spring oats. We sell treated grain, dried grain and green grain to Cooney Furlong in New Ross, Boortmalt in Athy and other local grain companies,” he explains.
The Wexford man previously chaired the Boortmalt Malting Barley Steering Group and was key to the development of the fledging distilling malting barley supply chain a number of years ago. Mark and his brother have pioneered the use of min and strip till techniques on their farm over the last number of years. A family man, Mark is married to Clare and has four children – Aoife (13), James (12), Noel (10) and John (eight).
The new Grain Committee chairman’s objectives include: maximising the price of grain, proteins and straw from the 2018 harvest; promoting native cereals and proteins to maximise the inclusion in compound feed rations and farm-to-farm sales; developing an assurance scheme with co-ops and grain merchants to give greater visibility around the inclusion of native cereals and proteins in compound feed rations; revising the malting barley model to deliver greater returns for malting barley with an increased premium for distilling barley; examining land use opportunities for crops and crop residues to develop alternative income streams.
“There’s a big challenge ahead because tillage farming is in a difficult place at the moment,” Mark says of his new role.
“It isn’t profitable at the moment – we’re producing grain for under the cost of production at times – and the challenge facing me and my committee is to turn that around, make it profitable again and to keep the sector alive. We want to see more native grain used and not be undermined by the continued importation of low-quality grain. We will also be placing a strong emphasis on the new CAP budget in two years’ time and will be fighting for Irish grain growers in both Dublin and Brussels.
“We’re determined to meet the challenges facing us head on and are committed to improving the lot of tillage farmers everywhere.”
Promoting native cereals is something Mark feels very strongly about. Two summers ago, he was part of the IFA protest at Drogheda Port over the ongoing and unnecessary importation of grain in preference to quality local supplies.
Speaking at the protest, Mark’s predecessor Liam Dunne outlined how tillage farmers are extremely angry that brokers are continuing to import barley at a time when incomes are on the floor and the sector is in serious danger of collapse.
“The Irish cereal sector is in danger of falling into terminal decline unless all stakeholders support growers and immediate and decisive action is taken to reverse the dramatic fall in incomes. Since 2012, the Irish cereal area has fallen by over 100,000 acres and this trend will accelerate unless there is a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for grain growers. Irresponsible actions by the brokers / importers will accelerate the sector’s demise to the detriment of Ireland’s livestock industry,” Mr Dunne warned.
Vowing to continue the fight, Mark comments: “The continued importation of inferior grain is aggravating an already serious income crisis on Irish tillage farms. Liam Dunne and I were instrumental in stopping a ship full of imported grain from docking in Drogheda a few years ago. A lot of brokers use the threat of imports to undermine local prices in an effort to boost their own earnings. That has to stop.”
Mark welcomes the malting barley package negotiated with Boortmalt for 2018 which includes measures such as an initial fixed price offer of €167,50/t (exclusive of VAT) for contract green brewing malting, a much-reduced seed price of €520/t (delivered) for all varieties, free haulage ex-yard for growers’ grain (delivered via lorry) where intakes were closed in recent years and retention of the existing split of brewing / distilling contract per grower “as is” with the potential for additional contracts to be awarded for all growers for Crop 2018.
He also welcomes Dairygold’s decision to declare a price for this season’s bean crop in advance of the planting season, and is calling on other merchants and co-ops to follow suit.
“The Dairygold price of €175/t is €15/t over last year’s harvest non-contract bean price. The increased price offer is a welcome development. This announcement will enable growers to make a commercial decision whether to grow the crop or not. Other merchants should follow the Dairygold lead,” he says.
“It’s crucial that growers are offered prices in advance of sowing given the tight margins that farmers are working off. Sowing in the absence of a firm price offer is akin to gambling and no way to run a business.”
Mark concludes with the following promise: “I will be doing everything in my power to secure better prices for our members and to ensure that there is a bright future for tillage farming in Ireland.”
Mark Browne, IFA Grain Committee Chairman
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 6 No 4, June/July 2018