It’s fair to say the atmosphere at last week’s “town hall” meetings was more akin to a Teagasc seminar on dry cow treatment options.
There’s no doubt suckler farmers are up in arms about the proposal to cap their herds, but a packed hall and a virtual “town hall” are worlds apart in terms of voicing that anger.
That said, the issue with the potential suckler cap was the most emotive on each of the three nights.
Last week saw the likes of Brendan Golden, the IFA livestock chair, and Rose Mary McDonagh, who chairs their farm business committee, address the meetings, but no national leader of a farm organisation spoke.
There was a moment at the Wednesday meeting where it seemed a farm leader was about to come on the pitch.
A Patrick McCormack was called on to pose a question to the bank of screens of officials. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering what the ICMSA president was about to say, and whether he would be try to shoehorn the Nitrates Action Programme into the conversation. It seems to be of more concern to most dairy farmers than any aspect of the CAP proposals.
And perhaps I wasn’t the only one who first discovered in that moment that the IFA’s new county chair for Monaghan shares his name with the ICMSA president. It was the IFA man who had a question for the group.
Perhaps the CAP row isn’t going to happen at all. But if it is, my money is on Ballymahon Mart next Friday, where the IFA’s livestock committee, which Golden chairs, will gather for their first meeting in the flesh since early last year. It’s their members who are most affected by and most exposed to the consequences of the proposed reforms.
The nature of the CAP reforms, which will benefit as many farmers as they disadvantage, leaves the farm organisations with a dilemma. How do you represent all your members fairly and effectively when the reform divides them down the middle? And perhaps a black and white issue like a cap on suckler herds is more likely to trigger farmers.
There seems one possible solution to the suckler cow cap conundrum. Have a cap that mirrors the old milk quota regime. Each farmer has a quota, but individual quotas are only triggered if the overall national quota of the reference year is exceeded. Which is unlikely to ever happen.