Reading the latest musings from the Food Vision dairy group, one would be forgiven for thinking that farmers were farming just for the love of it.
Not withstanding its environmental obligations, let's be real, it funds rural business that supports local jobs and local businesses the length and breadth of the country.
I just hope the stakeholders sitting around the table have more information on some of the proposals than what is included in the draft 35-page document circulated last Thursday afternoon for discussion on Monday.
Challenges and potential
In fairness, the document outlines the challenges and potential benefits to each of the 17 recommendations listed and makes no definitive recommendations, leaving the door open for discussion among stakeholders.
Also, we need to recognise that farmers are already doing, investing and implementing many of the issues detailed in the recommendations.
They effectively have to declassify or sterilise their farmland from breeding livestock
According to the draft document, a retirement scheme is proposed, but it includes no detail on funding. The proposal suggests a dairy farmer could hang up the clusters, or indeed a suckler farmer could sell the cows and replacements, and both can sign up to rearing crooked Friesian bull calves, installing solar panels or coloured dairy beef bull calves.
Indeed they could also go into sheep. However, either way, they effectively have to declassify or sterilise their farmland from breeding livestock. I'm not sure how that will work.
Soil fertility and types
In the same way, I’m all for reducing artificial nitrogen usage, but blanket recommendations that don’t take into account soil fertility, soil types, output and usage pattern, etc, only serve to frustrate farmers.
I was led to believe that research has shown a reduction in artificial nitrogen was aligned to a similar profit reduction. So, if nitrogen is reduced 35%, then profit is reduced 35%.
Of course, if a successful clover or multi-species sward is established, over time the hope is a production system can evolve into a lower input system that can grow similar feed levels.
However, establishing a broad-brush recommendation proposal without a handle on usage of fertiliser at farm level just isn’t right.
Surely we can let science and better information lead to better decision making. We also need research and demonstration to back up the alternative theory.
The proposal to set upper limits on new entrants and establish prolonged contracts that limit farm innovation and development is, at the very least, odd without knowing anymore detail. At worst, it’s a straightjacket to renewal in the sector.
To set upper limits for a new enterprise starting off that has to invest so much capital infrastructure up front on day one is going to significantly reduce the attractiveness of the enterprise and make it financially difficult, depending on where that upper threshold is.
It also, of course, treats certain co-op shareholders differently to others. These fly in the face of the commentary that there is a need for ongoing renewal in the sector.
The proposals on carbon farming, liming, LESS, methane limits, milk recording, replacing CAN fertiliser and feed additives are all of course worthy of inclusion and discussion and have been in play for some time. We’ll watch with interest what gets the green light on Monday.