UpFront JANUARY 2020 www.irishfarmersmonthly.com Greencore greens up for 2020 Berlin bonanza delay There seems to be some delay in the muchanticipated Berlin land sale by Farmer Business Developments Plc. Shareholders were assured earlier in 2019 that a sale was imminent or even agreed between the parties involved, resulting in a ‘substantial’ special dividend to members. Since then, other lands (not owned by the investment holding company) around the completed but unopened Berlin airport have been bought by Tesla, the electric car-maker, as the US company begins development of a European manufacturing base for its battery-powered cars, so the land is clearly in demand. Just before Christmas, Farmer Business Developments shareholders received an ‘interim’ dividend, presumably a holding operation while the land sale awaits completion. There is no reason to believe that the sale will not complete in due course, it’s just that shareholders legitimately expected a special dividend bonanza before the end of December. A little more patience will be needed before the real cheque-in-the-post hopefully arrives in the coming months. Making the switch Patrick Coveney must be pleased with himself as he enters this New Year. After huge effort on his part to turn Greencore’s American business around, he finally decided to cut and run. The net figures for the US divestment suggest a break-even on the original investment, but it was still a good deal to be able to move on with other, more lucrative plans. With most of the eggs now back in the British sandwich basket, the key to ongoing profitability has been identified by Coveney as a big buy-in to the hot food-to-go market in the UK. That probably means less meat-in-a-sandwich and more food-on-a-plate. Greencore is betting that growth in vegan and mainstream-ready meals will continue. One quarter of all new products launched by Greencore last year were either plant-based or vegan. While salad and sushi might not be the meals of choice for most Irish farmers, the figures speak for themselves: convenience meals are what consumers and commuters are increasingly opting for as they have less time to cook or prepare food themselves. Even so, the recent hiccup in the ongoing UK consumer demand for ready-to-eat food options must be a little disconcerting for the Greencore chief executive. Perhaps, like every other problem, this 2.6 per cent drop in demand can be accounted for by Brexit anxiety. Assuming that is the case and that when Brexit actually happens it doesn’t wreck the UK economy, the diversification by Greencore into new market channels and novel food options looks like a positive business strategy. One of the most startling pronouncements made at the Teagasc Dairy Conference last month was from researcher William Burchill when he calculated that switching from using CAN to protected urea could take a large slice off our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Since the conference was held in Killarney, William used the pertinent analogy that cutting Calcium Ammonium Nitrate applications by half in favour of protected urea would eliminate the emissions of all the 100,000 dairy cows in Kerry. That same substitution, taken on a national scale, would reduce overall emissions from the dairy herd by an estimated 15 per cent. A full changeover, however unlikely, would deliver a 30 per cent reduction in emissions from the sector. Despite the challenges in achieving meaningful emission reductions in the years ahead without drastically reducing inputs, output or herd size, there is a growing awareness that science has a big role to play. The use of protected urea is a classic example and, as William Burchill emphasises, making such a change from one source of nitrogen to another would deliver a greater emissions reduction than reducing nitrogen application in total by one quarter. 4