The office of the Agri-Food Regulator has been in place since the middle of December, with CEO Niamh Lenehan in place since last May as CEO-designate.

She has been out and about giving an insight to the role - in person at the recent Bord Bia meat seminar and this week in an online webinar.

This is important for a newly established office, but it is also essential that the office moves on quickly from this phase to getting down to the work for which it was set up.

It was a long time in development as legislation made its way through the Oireachtas and there is an expectation with farmers that after a long lead in, the office will hit the ground running.

The role in ensuring compliance with unfair trading practices legislation and dealing with complaints is clearly defined, even if there is a reluctance by suppliers to make complaints.

However, what has to be defined is what extent of transparency the office can bring to the supply chain between the farmgate and the retail shelf.

The CEO identified in this week’s webinar that there is an abundance of information at the farmer end of the supply chain and consumers are well aware of prices at the other end and it is the bit in between that is the problem.

Confidence building

Farmer confidence in the supply chain returning a fair price for their produce is low, particularly when market conditions are poor.

At present, there is no meaningful insight as to what is happening in the market place from a processor perspective.

They could be paying poor prices because the product isn’t selling and stocks have built up or the wholesale prices may have collapsed in value.

If farmers could see this, it would help understanding of market conditions, help build confidence and create a sense of fairness. In the absence of this knowledge, farmers are left to speculate.

It will be the ability to fill in this gap that will make or break the Agri-Food Regulator's office. The big issue in the farmer-factory relationship is the farmers' feeling of being ripped off when prices are poor.

There is little information and confidence in what happens beyond the farmgate and if a light can be successfully shone on this, then farmers will get real value from the office.

If it doesn’t, then it becomes another meaningless quango. It is very much in farmers' - and indeed the processing industry’s - interest that this doesn’t happen.