Farmers from across Ireland travelled to Dublin for the IFA’s Save Irish Farming protest on Sunday. Barry Murphy spoke to some of those present on the key issues affecting Irish agriculture
IFA Leitrim chair Des McHugh said Sunday’s protest was about “sustainable family farming” and the role it has in supporting the rural and wider economy.
The Leitrim livestock farmer said Ireland can’t “lose a generation of farmers” due to Government policy and that this must be addressed.
He described the major role Teagasc has to play in developing and rolling out the science and technology that will allow for even more sustainable agriculture.
Former IFA president Joe Healy said that Sunday’s rally was in protest against a lack of “joined-up thinking” and “lack of consultation” from the Government on the key issues affecting Irish agriculture.
The Galway man described how farmers “fully appreciate the work that has to be done” on the environment but said “we’ve been along that road already” and that farmers are already making progress on the environment and have done so for generations.
Healy drew examples to agriculture in other countries such as Brazil and the wider Amazon region where he said carbon leakage and environmental destruction are far worse. He said sustainable Irish farming cannot be viewed in the same light.
He said we’re heading to “a full vacuum of food production” and that this must be prevented.
North Cork IFA chair Anne Baker said the Save Irish Farming protest was “to highlight the serious issues surrounding farmers at the moment – CAP and nitrates”.
On the environment, she said farmers have “no issue doing what’s required” but that this must be done with sufficient supports and balance. The beef farmer described how farmers are “losing too much through CAP” as it currently stands and that this is not acceptable.
Baker called on the Government to engage meaningfully with farmers to develop policy that will work for rural Ireland.
Laois IFA chair John Fitzpatrick said that when it comes to climate, “farmers and agriculture can and are doing the most out of any sector”.
With this in mind, he said: “The Government would want to be taking engagement with farmers seriously.”
He called on Minister McConalogue and colleagues to forgo a “pupil and teacher situation” where farmers feel like they are being spoken down to and instead engage properly with farmers who he said are “willing and wanting to do it”.
He said those at Sunday’s rally were there “because they are deeply concerned at all levels”.
IFA Monaghan chair Patrick McCormick said the “sign says it all – no farmers, no food”.
He explained that there are three serious issues for Irish farmers today: “CAP, emissions and nitrates”.
On all of these, he said: “We do feel like Government could do more.”
He said Minister McConalogue had not used the discretion he was given by Brussels to develop a CAP that will work for Irish farmers.
McCormick called on the minister to make available eco schemes that will work for the farmers of Monaghan. He said there is no future for young farmers currently because of the lack of margins.
Longford IFA chair Gavin White said on climate obligations, “there is too much of the balance thrown on the farmer” and that this has to change.
He said: “We seem to be taking the brunt of the hit and they’re not properly allowing for the carbon sequestration on-farm.”
White highlighted the contribution Irish agriculture makes to the wider economy as it “supports jobs in veterinary, construction, retail and factories”. He said this “spin-off from farmers is brilliant” and must be acknowledged in Government policy.
He insisted that rural Ireland could not be let down.
Andrew Dundas from Clare described the “lack of credit” given to farmers for the carbon mitigation measures they’re “doing already”.
The Clare IFA dairy rep is concerned about the losses farmers will experience under the next CAP.
“The farmer who is producing the food is being totally decimated,” he said.
He outlined how there is “no future in the sector for young people” and said rural Ireland is facing “total wipe-out”.
IFA North Tipperary chair Imelda Walsh said Sunday’s protest was about showing Government the role of agriculture as an “indigenous rural sector” which must be protected. She said farmers in North Tipperary will be “decimated” by the current proposals within the next CAP.
Walsh outlined the “work farmers are already doing” when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and said they “won’t be found wanting” in doing more.
However, she called for Government to acknowledge this by undertaking a “proper calculation of emissions” on all farms in order to have a “full picture of the amount of carbon sequestered”.
Agri Aware chair Alan Jagoe said: “Farmers are fighting for our future.”
“We have a farm family and we want to pass it to the next generation,” he said.
He described farmers as “doing a hell of a lot” already when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.
He called on the Government to make climate targets achievable for rural Ireland in order to keep farms viable.
Among the group of young farmers who made the trip to Dublin for Sunday’s protest, tillage farmer Louise Carroll said: “We’re protesting in Dublin today as we need a future in agriculture.”
The Carlow tillage farmer highlighted the rising cost of farm inputs, including the ?price of diesel, as one of the main issues affecting her livelihood and future in farming.
Politicians don’t realise the gravitas of the situation when it comes to climate change, CAP, the Climate Action Plan and the Nitrates Directive, according to Macra president John Keane.
Keane addressed the farmers gathered at Merrion Square for Sunday’s protest. “All of these plans are going to dictate what the sector looks like for the next 10, 15, 20 years and beyond,” he said.
He called for a “plan of action” from the Government that is “thought through and that’s going to deliver results” and said there needs to be an end to “this lack of joined-up thinking”.
On young farmers, Keane said: “In no other sector would young people take a year-by-year approach. Nobody else would stand up for it.”