Questions and Answers with Richard Hackett Agricultural Consultant
Over the last number of years, Newgrange Gold has used the advice of Richard Hackett Agricultural Consultancy in identifying a suitable farmer to source our Oilseed Rape and Camelina Seed from the Boyne Valley region. Jack Rogers met with Richard recently to ask him some key questions about his job and Oilseed Rape and Camelina Sativa as a crop.
Q: What is your background and how did you get into agricultural consultancy?
A: Background is in production agriculture. I have lived in North County Dublin since I was 3 and have always been interested in agriculture. After school I went to Warrenstown Agricultural College, then to UCD to complete a Degree in General Agriculture. After graduation I worked for 2 years in a farm supply business and then in the amenity horticulture ( mainly golf courses). However, I returned to UCD to complete a Masters Degree in early potatoes, after which I returned to industry again until I secured funding for a PhD in Nitrates Loss in Winter Wheat. When that was completed, I joined The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for 6 years in various posts in the agricultural inspectorate, before initially taking a career break to start the agricultural consultancy in 2007.
Q: What’s your favourite part of your job?
A: The agricultural industry is highly regulated and a big portion of my work surrounds regulation, compliance, schemes and also providing expert opinion. The most interesting part for me is basic agronomy, which is looking after crops; soil fertility; crop planning, determination of fertiliser, disease and pest control etc. What is especially interesting is the agronomy of more novel crops that aren’t grown wide scale in Ireland, such as vegetables, oilseed rape, camelina etc
Q: Tell us a little bit about the Camelina Sativa as a break crop in Ireland from your point of view?
A: As a break crop it’s an excellent prospect, its spring sown with an early harvest, providing an excellent window for a following wheat crop. It’s easy on the land, leaves plenty of fertility in the soil and uses conventional machinery such as seeders, combine harvester etc. The sustainability of growing an oil crop in Ireland, especially a novel oil crop is a very sustainable proposal. Oils and protein crops imported from hot climates can have questions to answer regarding traceability, carbon footprint and residue levels, so a home grown traceable crop of a high quality oil is a very sustainable story to tell.
As it’s such a small scale crop, we don’t have a big armoury of pesticides available. This is especially for weed control, always an achilles heel of break crops that don’t cover the ground quickly. This requires us to go ‘old school’ in the production program and we have to be careful of previous crops that may bring volunteer weed issues, pinpoint timing of sowing to avoid the main flush of weed germination, use of stale seedbed techniques and use careful cultivation as the seed is so small etc.
Once we get the crop up over the ground and covering the ground without weeds, it’s quite easy from then on. It’s not especially disease prone, except for downy mildew, it doesn’t have any pest issue and doesn’t lodge. Harvest is quite easy and it is quite easy to get it dry in in the field as it matures in August. This reduces the need for expensive drying post-harvest.
Q: You work with two farmers that Newgrange Gold sourced Camelina Sativa in 2018/2019. Tell us about how their crops are managed.
A: It has been a learning experience for both the growers and myself. We have to be very careful in field selection to avoid previous crops of oilseed rape. The most critical aspects that both of the growers have in spades is enthusiasm, problem solving and not being risk averse. They are very interested in how the crop is doing and monitor the crops every few days. When we come across a problem, we often have to design a solution ourselves. As an example, a huge amount of testing was required to get the combine setting correctly to avoid blowing out all the seed out of the cleaning mechanism, which in turn required having a subsequent cleaner available that can manage such small seed in camelina.
Q: People in Ireland are worried about bees and oilseed rape. What would your view on this be as an agronomist?
A: Oilseed rape requires bees to pollinate the crops during the flowering phase. That is when you see the deep yellow fields in early May. If you stand still in an oilseed rape field at this time, you will hear the background drone of literally millions of bees scurrying through the crops collecting nectar, but also fertilising the oilseed rape flowers. Bee keepers love oilseed rape crops, and place their hives near where oilseed rape crops are grown. Apparently, the honey that bees produce from oilseed rape is very clear and easily distinguishable. When planning the production of a crop, we don’t go near the fields during the flowering phase of the crop, as we can’t disturb the bees during this critical work of fertilising the crops. Oilseed rape production would be impossible without bees and the crop provides an excellent food source for the bees, they have a crucial symbiotic arrangement. As more oilseed rape is grown, more bees will survive and thrive.
Q: How do you see tillage farming doing in the next 10 years?
A: Tillage farming in Ireland and in the EU is at a critical juncture. We can’t compete on a like-for-like basis with imported maize, soya and by-products of maize and soya that come flooding in from the Americas.
However, tillage farming has a very good story to tell as regards low carbon emissions, enhancing biodiversity, protecting water quality and producing fully traceable, quality animal feed and also quality food products like rapeseed oil and camelina oil, but also products like vegetables and potatoes. I’m part of an organisation, Tillage Industry Ireland, that is working hard towards telling this story. It’s my firm belief that the production of crops such as oilseed rape and camelina will gain traction with our customers.
Q: Do you see a future for Oilseed Rape as a food and feed crop over the next 10 years?
A: Yes, oil production, based on being fully traceable, low carbon footprint and good environmental profile has a crucial role in Europe over the next 10 years . The EU is a huge deficit producer of proteins and they have to address this. Protein crops will get attention and their future is bright. Rapeseed Oil produced in North Western Europe has some excellent quality characteristics, combined with the environmental profile where there is plenty of water and has a much brighter future against olive oil that is being produced in regions with depleting water reserves.
To find our more about Hackett Agricultural Consultancy visit www.http://hac.ie/