The Dealer has been wondering over recent months why the concerted efforts of the dairy sector to protect derogation farmer incomes have not been replicated in the drystock sector in any significant way.

Perhaps there isn’t the same focus on decades-long decline in drystock incomes as current derogation pressures are seen as man-made and sudden, rather than dismissed as being longer-term, structural and inevitable challenges pressing on drystock farmers.

It could be that farm leaders and politicians have resigned suckler, beef and sheep farming to being nothing more than part-time follies for the majority of Irish farmers. It is what it is, they may say.

But surely the case for worthwhile margins for beef and sheep farming is equally as pressing a cause as saving the derogation is for dairy farmers?

Now, The Dealer is not begrudging the efforts dairy farmers have put into mobilising themselves and their representatives to safeguard a vital component of the profitability of their systems.

Retaining the derogation is directly tied to the viability of thousands of dairy farms.

Small farmers

However, its retention would still leave tens of thousands of drystock farmers with farm incomes of less than €10,000, in the continued absence of new ideas and a whole-of-sector push to put these ideas into action.

Teagasc’s recently published small farmers’ survey shows that one in four of Ireland’s smallest 48,000 farmers plan to exit active farming in the five years after 2022.

There have been no Oireachtas committee hearings, Teagasc-led campaigns or industry-commissioned impact assessments compiled on the impact of this very real potential loss for Irish farming and its contribution to rural communities. The same could be said for ever-dwindling numbers of suckler cows.

Where’s the united front of farmers, their representative organisations and senior politicians who pledge to fight to the last stand? These same politicians have been falling over one another in the rush to commit to efforts to save the derogation since it first became apparent that a cut from 250kg N/ha was possible last year.

While The Dealer is not looking to dismiss the work of farmer representatives volunteering their time to advocate for the case of drystock farmers, the question needs to be asked, where are the new ideas outside of the same-old, same-old pre-budget asks?

Farmers are told that the loss of the derogation will affect every single one of them through its impact on the land market and, for many areas of the country, that is undoubtedly true.

However, for vast swathes of the west, cattle prices, lamb prices and the funding available to draw down through schemes are the defining issues of their survival.

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing repeatedly and expect different results. The same definition could be applied to doing nothing and also expecting an improvement.

Ideas on a postcard, please.