DEAR MINISTER: Last week at the Ploughing, I had the pleasure of listening to your address on the 220kg N/ha stocking rate reduction in the Fianna Fáil tent.
While sticking tight to script, minister, I do want to clarify a few points that you mentioned that were ill-informed.
During your address you stated that farmers had plenty of notice of the shift in policy to 220kg N/ha. This is categorically untrue.
As a politically engaged farmer, I am aware that you, minister, stated that you would seek flexibility on the policy in March 2023.
The outcome of this pursuit was only confirmed on 6 September when you failed to yield any assistance for farmers.
Only in July was “the red map” published on a PDF of areas to be stocked at 220kg N/ha.
Surely farmers should have been provided with a more detailed map than a PDF given the impact it will have on farm livelihoods.
Also, minister, no farmer in the country was informed of their stocking rate threshold prior to the breeding season which took hold in late April.
How do you expect farmers to operate in such uncertainty?
The expectation from you, minister, is that farmers must comply with this policy change in three months’ time, leaving farmers with little option but to slaughter pregnant cows. This is completely immoral and not an image we should be portraying as an industry.
The thin veil of perceived collaboration that you hide behind, minister, is wearing away.
Our vibrant dairy sector underpins our rural landscape
We know that the IFA put forward a very reasonable submission to your water quality group for alternative measures that would reduce the nitrogen load without undermining farm livelihoods that was ignored.
You seem determined to shut down commercial farming, erode succession opportunities and belittle the significant investment made in dairy processing that was once applauded.
Our vibrant dairy sector underpins our rural landscape. This disruption will have a significant ripple effect across the entire sector.
However, putting all this aside minister, you are asking farmers to comply with a policy that will decimate their incomes without a guarantee that reducing stocking rate will actually improve water quality. How can you accept this? As a proud Cork man, we are very familiar with the successes of the Timoleague catchment that operates under the Agriculture Catchments Programme.
Since its inception 13 years ago, the farmers in Timoleague have succeeded in carrying 40% more cows and improving water quality. Why do you and your colleagues continue to ignore this reality and the guidelines that are developed from it, which could tangibly improve water quality in other areas?
I look forward to you visiting the Timoleague catchment programme and, equally, I look forward to the Commissioner and officials visiting Ireland to understand what the Irish grass-based farming system is about and how it has succeeded in delivering environmentally resilient meat and dairy.
We have seen the destruction of the sugar beet industry already. Surely, we should learn from this disastrous decision and negotiate a suitable solution.
Minister, remember we live in a functioning democracy. I and every other dairy farmer would prefer to work with you to come to a more pragmatic solution than the one you have landed us with.