As I write, farmers are gathering across all the main arterial roads into Paris, besieging the city. TV screens across the planet will see footage of tractorcades and blockades on their screens as they have their supper, only this time with the Eiffel Tower on the skyline rather than last week’s Brandenburg Gate.
Will people make the connection between the food they are eating and the farmers on the streets? Will there be a recognition that farmers across Europe are saying the system of food production is collapsing?
Globalisation and stagnant prices, rising input costs due in no small part to the unstable geopolitical landscape and environmental regulation on farming are adding costs, work and restrictions on production.
The old solution of increased intensity is no longer on the farmer’s table, and its absence, or the absence of any other obvious solution, is the assumption that food will be on the table in abundance must be in doubt.
The danger is that the general public will only wake up to this possibility when it has happened, and by then it might be too late.
This may sound like a doomsday scenario, and certainly many would like to dismiss the farmer protests as little more than sectoral special pleading from a cohort of society who have had undue influence on public policy for too long, particularly in the face of the rapidly unfolding climate crisis.
The answer to that is pretty simple and rather stark – no farmers, no food. Amy Forde’s analysis last week of the scale of the exodus from farming shows this is a legitimate concern.
Meanwhile, here in Ireland, some farmers are asking why they are not following the example of other European countries in terms of direct action at this time.
The list of grievances is long enough – nitrates, delayed payments, the fiascos in TAMS and ACRES, a Government missing its forestry targets as badly as its housing targets. But there is no one issue right now that farmers can push for immediate change for, and expect a quick result. Francie Gorman has made clear in these pages today that he is perfectly prepared to lead farmers into direct action, on the right issue, at the right time. It is understood that the IFA had called an emergency meeting to consider protest action on Wednesday night.
Timing, of course, is another concern. All over Ireland, farmers are focusing on calving and lambing sheds, or beginning to plough in advance of planting. Today, St Brigid’s Day, heralds the start of spring; farmers haven’t the cover to leave the yard and take to the streets.
The final factor is engagement. European farmers are in part protesting to be given a level of access to government that Irish farmers already have.
But if farmer frustration with the failure of dialogue is to translate into action, it isn’t a question of if Irish farmers will take to the streets, only when.