DEAR SIR: Dairy farmers could be forgiven for feeling talked at rather than being talked with at present. A few examples.
The announcement that milk supply is to be curtailed by a major processor is bad enough in itself but to think that the primary reason for this is that a publicly funded NGO has imposed a veto on milk production on Irish farms is beyond belief.
The State needs to deal with this situation. It does beg the question, however, that if we had some kind of federation of dairy processors whereby processing capacity was maximised, while also ensuring sensible co-ordination of the production and marketing of all Irish products, would we not all be better off?
No, I’m not calling for amalgamations but a plea for more meeting of minds on our behalf. Less national and more international competition sounds better.
The expansion in dairying has contributed millions of euro to the construction sector of the rural economy
The second issue of concern is repeated calls for a reduction in livestock numbers to deal with carbon emissions. This is simplistic and too convenient. When the narrative moves to a criticism of farmers that have had the ambition to grow their businesses and provocative terms like “factory farms” used and that the countryside will be left desolate because of farming is without foundation or fact. The expansion in dairying has contributed millions of euro to the construction sector of the rural economy.
This is before we add in all the extra jobs in processing and marketing and on the farms themselves. These jobs are hugely positive for the fabric of rural life. If livestock numbers need to be reduced it must be targeted. If age at first calf in dairy and beef as well as empty cows and age at slaughter were addressed, we would have a significant reduction in emissions while having a positive effect on farm profitability.
The third point is the recent Government plan for dramatic reduction in carbon by 2050. The details are not yet available, but we can get a sense of what will be involved for agriculture by the repeated statement that agriculture is responsible for 34% of total emissions.
We feed many people and we do it safely and sustainably
Some commentators seem to believe it to be an inconvenient truth that people must eat. What we rarely hear about is that Irish farms feed over 40m people from this small island. By 2050, there will be 20% more people in the world that will need food. Ideology and romanticism will not fill stomachs.
We feed many people and we do it safely and sustainably.
So, who speaks for us? There are so many voices, bodies, associations and organisations that getting agreement is next to impossible. The recent Citizens Assembly was very successful in bringing tough and difficult issues to the fore. What if we were to establish something similar for agriculture? I do not want to circumvent the work by Tom Arnold and his group but something added is required. Without putting too fine a point on it, who speaks for the future farmer who continually invests, employs, produces and may or may not have entitlements?