The era of cheap food is over and consumers waiting or expecting food prices to revert to their previous levels would be “waiting in vain”, according to Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) president Pat McCormack.
McCormack made the comments at the National Economic Dialogue in Dublin on Monday.
The ICMSA leader highlighted that much of the concerns being expressed around the recent surge in food prices were because, prior to this, consumers and corporate retailers had become used to “simply passing their own financial preferences backwards on to the farmer primary producer”.
Speaking on Monday, he said: “The ‘cheap food’ era was ending anyway, but the invasion of Ukraine has massively accelerated that process.
“The corporate retailers have lost the ability to dictate backwards on volumes and margins and the move to sustainability is going to mean that consumers are going to have to get used to paying the real costs – both economically and environmentally – of the food they want to consume.”
McCormack insisted that his comments were “not an explanation or an apology for the increased prices”, but rather that these prices are “just going to be a fact of life”.
The Tipperary dairy farmer also turned his attention to the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol and the British government’s actions last week.
He said that Ireland would have to “extricate the UK from the latest hole they had dug for themselves” and called on political relations to continue to prevent a “trade war that would damage our food exports and our perfectly integrated all-island dairy sector”.
On climate, he described how the transition to lower emissions farming and food production was “already under way” and suggested that some degree of patience will be required to see where measures already introduced would work.
However, McCormack said he was adamant that Ireland cannot amend or direct policy on farming and agri food, according to the latest environmental “panic story assiduously propagated by the general media”.
“Farming by its nature is a years-in-advance process, with decisions taken today only seeing results in two or three years.
"It’s just not possible for the Irish Government to make environmental decisions on farming on the hoof or in reaction to some panicky opinion article carried that day or week.
“We have to know that policy is considered and has a real understanding of all the issues at play.
"The rural communities that are wholly dependent economically, socially and demographically on commercial farming are entitled to that and [the] ICMSA is going to insist they get it,” he said.