We crossed Christy Ring Bridge to join the building crowd of farmers. It was the final leg of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA) day of action to highlight the importance of farming and to protest at the government’s policy direction and lack of engagement with farming representatives on the issues.

What began in Cavan, Roscommon and Portlaoise had culminated in a fine crowd in Cork. Munster farmers had travelled from all over.

The challenges facing farming are complex and multifaceted covering: emissions, air quality, water quality, biodiversity restoration and farm income threats.

Restoring biodiversity may reduce land availability, consequently reducing incomes

One issue alone would be difficult to navigate but all together amount to a mountain of regulation far too difficult to climb. Improving emissions translates into a possible reduction in livestock numbers, increased carbon tax and issues around slurry storage, spreading and management.

That equates to one thing only and it is reduced incomes. Improving water quality means a more severe Nitrates Directive on farmers, again reducing incomes. Restoring biodiversity may reduce land availability, consequently reducing incomes.

I have no doubt that farmers will be on board for all these measures

A more restricted and converged Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will directly impact some farmer’s incomes. We cannot survive it all. I have no doubt that farmers will be on board for all these measures but there has to be realism about how much the industry can sustain at any one time. We deserve to be given adequate time and support to navigate and learn this new landscape. The Government’s policy direction has frightened farmers, making them question their ability to cope with all that is being asked of them. Consequently, this is damaging young farmers’ confidence with regard to their futures in the industry.

Despite the serious issues facing farming; farmers understand the need to make changes to mind our planet. We remain committed to farming sustainably and with the help of science and research will hopefully navigate all these elements successfully.

Good for morale

As the counties were collecting around the Cork Opera House, finding their own members and colleagues; it felt good to be giving voice to our particular problems. Largely, farmers and farm families farm alone. If nothing else, this was good for morale. We were glad to be doing something to highlight to the policy makers and government representatives that our livelihoods are at risk if agriculture is crippled with unrealistic and unattainable climate action measures along with CAP changes and a severe Nitrates Directive.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen our local IFA people and longer still since we’ve met the folk from other counties. From a human perspective, it was both exhilarating and poignant. So many good friends and colleagues!

On the plus side, the young farmers were out in force

So many grey heads; recognition of farmers that I should have known instantly was delayed because our cohort of people have aged considerably. That’s the reality and we’ve probably been to too many IFA rallies.

On the plus side, the young farmers were out in force. My son Colm and his wife Elaine were along with their own cohort of progressive dairy farmers. Jack Hennessey and his lovely girlfriend Kelly caught up with us at one point.

We walked on down Opera Lane. The crowd filled the street

Jack works with us and is studying agriculture in Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and his lecturer had encouraged the class to participate and they were there because as Jack said: “I’m here because I want to milk lots of cows. I love farming and I want to do it sustainably.”

We walked on down Opera Lane. The crowd filled the street. The colourful trucks of our suppliers, feed mills, fuel suppliers, AI companies, co-ops and others hooted the horns in support and filled Patrick Street. As they passed they were name checked and their presence appreciated by farmers. The industry is strong together. They were followed by the tractors; John Deeres aplenty! It was a spectacular sight on a calm dry night in a beautiful Cork city.

Where from here?

The unity of farmers is key to every change that farmers have to negotiate with government and the EU to continue to produce food. We have endured many changes in the past. We were not found wanting when Food Harvest 2020 requested that we increase milk production by 40%. In fact, we surpassed it.

Now suddenly we must go backwards. That is not realistic in any shape or form.

Government and policy makers have a huge job of work to do to find the way forward with the farm organisations on how to calculate and measure fairly what is happening and ensure that farmers can farm sustainably and continue to produce wonderful wholesome food from the fabulous grass, livestock and crops that we farmers produce in all sectors.