“It’s not about making money anymore, it’s about surviving”


The lives of poultry farmers Mark and Grainne Duffy are devoured by numbers: the 9,000 hens they have on their Monaghan farm, the 50% increase in their feed bills and the losses they are already suffering for each egg leaving their farm.

The couple, who run organic egg operation MGC Organic Farm in Ballybay, face a €125,000 increase in their usual food bill until the end of April, when they have until has not been able to obtain contracts from its feed supplier for after this date. , such is the volatility of the market.

“Business is no longer about making money, it’s about surviving,” Duffy told The Irish Times. “Forage has gone from €510 per tonne to €713 per tonne and there is talk of a further increase of €60 per tonne. Things get crazy.

Loans

The couple’s main problem is sourcing certified organic cereals. They have the option of buying non-organic grain and switching to conventional coop eggs; but even then, rising feed costs mean they might not earn enough to cover the loans they have taken out.

“If it continues like this, there may be no more organic eggs in the country in three or four months. We need an extra 5 cents per egg to keep operating, but the supermarkets don’t cover the increases the farmer has to pay.

“Consumers need to understand what’s happening to the primary producer – a lot of us are on our knees,” Duffy said. “I had to let go of part-time staff and find work off the farm just to cover the loans.

“The way things are going, my wife may also have to find a job off the farm to keep us going. I always dreamed of being a full-time farmer and things were going so well that I made it, but I had to go back to work.

Shadow

The shadow cast by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is deepening day by day, he said, affecting not only himself and his wife, but also the pullet farmer raising his young hens and the truck drivers who deliver its grain.

As an organic farmer, Duffy used plant-based leys – a mixture of forage grasses, herbs and legumes – for his hens as fodder material to supplement their feed intake, but the restrictions imposed to fight the flu avian earlier in the year created “the perfect storm” for the industry.

“The big problem here is to ensure the meal. There have been efforts to do this before, but they never took off, and farmers would struggle to get the machines they need if they were to do so this year,” Duffy said.

For now, the Monaghan couple are left with major questions over the next two months and few readily available answers. If food costs continue to rise, they will have to go to the bank and pray that they can “get by”, he said.

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