Farmers at the mart: ‘We’re paying three times more for fertiliser’

Soaring costs and reduced margins, farmers in Fermoy brace themselves for a tough year

During his 60 years as a full-time farmer, Joe Smiddy met many challenges on the family's 200-acre farm in Ballymacoda, near Youghal, Co Cork, but always kept the faith, always believing better days would come.

Today, Smiddy is retired from full-time work for the last five years, but still helps his son, Maurice: "I've seen all the changes," he told The Irish Times, during a break in sales at Corrin Mart, near Fermoy, Co Cork this week.

“If someone told me back then we’d be paying €1,000 for a tonne of fertiliser, they’d be locked up. Still, I’d be optimistic; you have to be in farming for the long haul and you have to be patient,” he declared.

Taking a philosophical view, Smiddy, nevertheless, said the price increases now facing farmers are worse than anything he has seen before: “The price of fertiliser is gone crazy; 10:10:20 is over €1,000 a tonne now.


“We’re milking 200 cows, so we’re using a lot of fertilisers. Milk prices are good at the moment so that helps but no way will it make up for the increase in costs because everything is up and up and up and up and up,” he said.

The sun shone high above Corrin Hill but the mood of many farmers at the popular mart was far from optimistic, with most bracing themselves for a tough year ahead on foot of soaring costs and reduced margins.

Dairy farmer Derek Smith is the third generation of his family to farm a 140-acre holding at Rochestown near Cork city where he milks 100 cows, but he, too, has seen the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“I was buying fertiliser last year for about €350 a tonne; I bought it this year for €700. Now it’s gone to €900. There’s no guarantee that that’s the end of [it]. Last year, I spent €27,000 on fertiliser. This year, I’ll be spending over €60,000.”

Global fertiliser supplies have faced a number of blows, including the Ukraine war, cuts in supplies from Russia and Belarus, along with a China export ban, with the likelihood that the situation ahead will get worse, not better.

Russian fertiliser companies have not been hit with sanctions, but producers have been temporarily ordered to halt fertiliser exports, cutting off a flow of more than a fifth of the world’s urea supply.

The price of urea, along with ammonia, nitrogen, potash, phosphates, sulphates and nitrates needed for farm-ready fertilisers, has risen by 30 per cent since the start of the year .

Having sold 10 calves, Pat McGrath, who rears sucklers on his 40-acre farm at Knockraha in east Cork, gloomily predicted that the worst is still to come, with fertiliser "probably" going to €1,500 a tonne

“How can we sustain that? I’m only a small farmer but the costs are crippling; we’re paying three times more for fertiliser. How can you ask consumers to pay three times more for their beef or milk?”

Haulier Kevin McGivern from Ballymacnab in Co Armagh illustrated how the crisis is hitting everyone connected with agriculture, not just farmers, as he waited to collect a load of 300 calves to bring to the Netherlands.

He tries to buy most of his diesel before leaving home, because diesel costs in the Netherlands are far higher: “I paid €1.86 a litre for diesel here in Cork, it’s €2.34 a litre in Holland,” he said.

Local haulier, Tom Priestly from Dungourney in east Cork, who delivers animals to the mart for farmers, echoed McGivern, saying he had turned down work from Millstreet as transport costs were too prohibitive.

Now Priestly is spending €400 a week on diesel, not €300 as before. Farmyards are already changing, he warned: “I’ve one man who sold 25 calves last week to cut his costs.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times