A shopkeeper was out socialising. Beside him he overheard a group of people chatting about his shop. They described the shop as dirty, said it should be shut down. The shopkeeper interrupted to tell them he was upset listening as his shop was clean and compliant all round. The group apologised and said it wasn’t meant to be personal. He asked, if his shop was shut what would he do? They shrugged their shoulders.
This didn’t actually happen. It’s a yarn a 50-something farmer shared with me to describe how he feels he’s viewed by people who “detest dairy farming regardless of climate change”. I said this was a simplistic way of looking at things, that few people I encounter want to see this happening. Rather they want to support a just transition.
He replied that as an “honest hardworking farmer” he took the criticism as an attack on him personally. “It feels like I am being asked if I have stopped beating my wife, listening to non-farmer environmentalists and politicians talk about what I have been doing for a living for over 40 years.”
Dr Patrick Bresnihan, lecturer in Geography at Maynooth University, observed in a recent edition of the Reboot Republic podcast: “Beyond reducing emissions, I don’t think [the environmental side] really care what happens next.” That’s exactly what farmers believe too.
Qualified environmentalists and farmers have always engaged in robust discussion about the future direction of Irish agriculture and in large part it has been constructive. It’s an important alliance right now.
What has become infuriating for farmers is when people with limited knowledge about the complexities of the farming sector have weighed into the discussion. Urban Green Party supporters are one example of a recently arrived small cohort suddenly with lots to say about how Irish farmers should do their job. Everybody is entitled to their opinion but some opinions, let’s just say, are best kept unsaid to avoid embarrassment.
For a party that aspires to have a positive impact in rural Ireland, they are let down when urban-focused politicians talk down to farmers. They should stay in their lane and leave it to their clued-in colleagues who do know lots about the complex makeup of Irish agriculture before chiming in with populist and patronising nonsense.
Farmers try to correct the record on wild assumptions which are made by people on social media but by the time they get around to defending themselves, the misinformation has already spread out of control. It is why a young Dutch-based farmer I spoke to earlier this summer told me she doesn’t bother to engage. “Some of them can dish it out but they can’t take it when we defend ourselves with facts,” was how she described some environmentalists she encountered on social media.
There are a few active farmers on social media who engage daily with environmentalists and vice-versa. There are many more farmers who would love to but are afraid for fear of being labelled “cruel” or being a “climate denier”. Neither farmer I spoke to wanted to be named due to that fear.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan engaged in a constructive discussion with farmers on a panel which included IFA president Tim Cullinan at the recent Teagasc energy event in Gurteen College. Maybe next year, Minister Ryan might bring a few urban councillors with him to talk with farmers face to face about farming. There is a first time for everything.
I was saddened to hear of the death of Con Lucey (former IFA economist). Con was always available to patiently help dissemble complex issues. He was a gentle man and a gentleman. May he Rest in Peace.