Irish seek to be self sufficient in milling wheat

The Irish Times -- A programme which could see Irish farmers growing some of the 100,000 tonnes of milling wheat that is currently imported each year has got under way.

Ireland requires 250,000 tonnes of milling wheat annually and 100,000 tonnes of this is imported as the required quality is difficult to produce there.

Jim O'Mahony, programme manager for tillage crops and renewable energy at Teagasc, said the organisation had joined with farmers and millers to try to replace imports.

He said Ireland had been importing about 25,000 tonnes of Hard Red Spring Wheat from north America and up to 75,000 tonnes of quality milling wheat from the UK, France and Germany.

"We could be producing up to 150,000 tonnes of milling grade wheat but unfortunately only 75,000 tonnes approximately is being produced in recent years," he said.

"Close on 20 per cent of the winter wheat and 75 per cent of spring wheat sown for 2008 has the potential to go for milling, supplying in excess of the 150,000 tonnes required," he said.

He said the main problem facing growers was the required 10.5 per cent protein levels.

"It is not the weather even though in a bad, wet summer, it is difficult to get this level of protein," he said. "However, I believe that if we set our sights on growing milling quality grain, we can do it," he said.

He said that with the proper application of the correct rate of nitrogen at the right time during crop growth, quality milling wheat could be produced in most settings.

Teagasc has set up a pilot project with Odlums, the milling company, and some farmers to concentrate on growing wheat for milling. "We know the varieties we need and we have the technologies and I believe it is just a matter of applying ourselves to the task," he said. Large price increases on international wheat markets had prompted the initiative, he said.