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My Farming Life: Meet the Stradbally tillage farmer and chair of the Irish Grain Growers

On this week’s My Farming Life, we chat with Bobby Miller who is a tillage farmer based just outside Stradbally. Bobby took over the farm from a young age and farms along with his father, Robert, on what is a multi-crop tillage farm.

Bobby is also a big football man, having been chair of Annanough for many years.

Bobby is now chairman of the Irish Grain Growers, which is an new organisation that represents the tillage farmers of Ireland.

In recent times, tillage farming in Ireland has seen a dramatic fall in terms of profitability and the group fight for the future of the industry. We asked a series of questions to Bobby below:

What type of farm do you have?

I have a Tillage farm just outside Stradbally. It has medium type soil with a pH in the high 6s and suits crops like oats, barley, oil seed rape and I’m going to grow beans this year for the first time.

What made you take the path of farming?

I liked the diversity that farming has to offer, you’re a mechanic one day changing the oil in the tractor, a researcher the next day seeing what’s new as regards crop husbandry and I grew up on the farm too which helped make the decision.

Where did you acquire your farming knowledge? 

Learned most of it from my father, you are always learning in farming though. Technology is moving on all the time so you have to try keep up. Tillage farming is actually a complex business and we don’t realise the wealth of information we have stored away in our brains.

What is your favourite aspects of farming?

Being your own boss and able to work flexible hours for the most part.

What is your least favourite aspect of farming?

With tillage farming you are depending on the weather to get work done, it can be very frustrating and often you have to work long hours no matter what else is happening. You may have to miss a football match you were looking forward to going to. It’s not exactly a 9 to 5 job.

What has been the biggest change in farming since you first became a farmer?

The number of farmers are getting less year on year but the smart phone is probably the most used tool on a farm now for accessing information or recording farm activities for traceability purposes etc. Whatsapp groups are great for giving and getting information and opinions.

Do you think farming is sustainable as a full-time job, or do you think farmers need an outside income to keep going forward?

Unfortunately tillage farming has been neglected from a policy and lobbying point of view here in Ireland. Tillage farming incomes are well below the average wage in Ireland now and it shouldn’t be the case.

The average tillage farmer income in 2016 was just over €30,000 compared to the average wage of €45000.

What is your daily routine on the farm?

There is no such thing as a daily routine on a tillage farm, the work you are doing depends on the time of year and the weather. There is no fear of it being Groundhog Day on a tillage farm.

What time of the year are you most busy on the farm and why?

There are two real busy times on a tillage farm. Spring time when spreading fertilizer, spraying crops , ploughing and sowing spring crops etc.

Then there is the harvest which can start in mid July harvesting winter barley and finish in late September harvesting beans.

What is your favourite time of year on the farm?

Autumn. Life is not all about work and we try go on a holiday that time of year.

Have you got a degree or qualification outside farming, or if not, what would you like do if you were not a farmer?

I have a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering from Carlow IT, probably would have liked to do something in the line of Civil engineering if I wasn’t farming.

What is the Irish Grain Growers and what is your role in the organisation?

The Irish Grain Growers Group is a relatively new group representing tillage farmers in Ireland. The goal of the group is to secure a sustainable future for Irish tillage farmers. I am currently chairperson.

What more can be done to improve tillage farming and secure it’s future in Ireland?

Hard to answer that in a few short lines. A key thing would be to use tillage land to grow food grade crops not feed grade crops. Aim for premium markets like gluten free oats, quinoa, sugar, milling flour from wheat oats and barley, beans, peas, oil seed rape oil, healthy type food crops.

Supply the growing market that is a vegetarian diet that more and more younger people are choosing for varying reasons. Work with commercial bee keepers to produce Irish honey. There needs to be far more Research and Development done for tillage farming in Ireland.

What can the Irish Grain Growers do to help achieve the improvements that are needed?

Just this week we were in Dáil Éireann to meet the Joint Oireachtas committee on Agriculture to highlight the role the tillage sector plays in environmentally friendly farming. We as tillage farmers are well ahead of other sectors like dairy and beef when it comes to our carbon footprint in producing food.

We have lead a campaign highlighting the fact that we only receive 1% equivalence of the retail price of beer. We are pushing to change the mindset of those who have influence in Ireland on policy. The tillage sector has been neglected by lobby groups and successive governments, this must must change. We will try educate people where their food comes from and why traceability is important.

We will investigate our costs and try reduce them. We will explore ideas like Tillage Co ops to add value to our produce.

Final question, if you had one piece of advice for a young person who was thinking of choosing a career in farming what would it be?

Travel the world for a year or 2 , work for other farmers to see how they run their farms.

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