The Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) has said that comments made by Minister of State Pippa Hackett show that she is on "a bit of a cross-country gallop".
The ICMSA has responded to comments where Minister Hackett raised the possibility of livestock farmers introducing horses as a way of reducing emissions while supporting the equestrian sector.
ICMSA president Pat McCormack said that the most immediate question that would occur to anyone after reading Minister Hackett’s remarks would be what are we expected to do with 5,000 or 10,000 extra horses.
Did the minister envisage Ireland exporting horse meat or a quadrupling of demand for racing bloodstock? What were the farmers to do with these horses, he asked.
"[The] ICMSA fully accepts that we must ‘think outside the box’ when it comes to emissions and the transition to lower carbon.
"We are up for that, we have always been up for that. All we ask for is that the policies and ideas be based in some reality.
"We are struggling here to see the basis on which Minister Hackett can come to the conclusion that introducing horses on to threatened family dairy farms represents economic and environmental progress," he said.
It’s really time for ministers themselves to stop thinking out loud
McCormack said that perhaps the ICMSA has missed something, in which case, it seeks an explanation.
There is a real danger that this continual scenario, which saw politicians "throwing out ideas" on emissions lowering and "possible income streams" was actually doing more harm than good, according to McCormack.
"We would think that unless you have sound ideas that stand up to some kind of commercial scrutiny, you’d nearly be better off saying nothing.
"It was the Government that announced that we had to move past talking and into action and, that being the case, it’s really time for ministers themselves to stop thinking out loud and come back instead with some hard and logical proposals," McCormack added.
He said proposals of importance would address the very first principle of farming - what are we producing and who’s going to buy it?
The ICMSA feels that that is a reasonable question to start with and has said it looks forward to next month’s budget giving more coherent answers.
Many foals are already being sold below the cost of production
The IFA was also scathing of the Minister's comments and said that many foals are already being sold below the cost of production.
IFA deputy president Brian Rushe said that farmers should be conscious that horse breeding is a highly skilled and a high-cost business that is very challenging for those already in the sector, particularly at the middle to lower end.
“While there are some very successful ventures at the elite end, many breeders of thoroughbreds and commercial sport horses that I know are struggling to make it pay,” he said.
The message, he added, is that Ireland already risks breeding too many foals, particularly at the middle and lower end of the market.
“The Minister should be looking to do more for people currently breeding horses rather than encouraging more people to breed foals which could undermine the supply and demand balance in the sector,” he said.
There is a trend of Green Party Ministers encouraging people to change their farming practices to niche activities which have very fragile markets, he said.
Farmers that already have the experience and expertise in horse breeding and horse rearing must be supported as a first step, he concluded.