"Dear friends, I am deeply convinced that agriculture and nature conservation can go hand in hand. But we must look into the challenges that farmers face, so that you can continue to guarantee Europe’s food security also in the future. And for this, we need an ever-closer co-operation with the farming sector. This will be central to the next phase of the European Green Deal.”
A line from the speech by President von der Leyen at the ‘European Farmers’ Deal in the European Parliament last week.
Reading this in isolation with little awareness of what is actually happening to Irish or European agriculture would have you believe that the future of food and farming in Europe was top of the agenda and in safe hands.
The President backed up the line above with – ‘…many are also pioneers of a new kind of agriculture. You are adopting new technologies from satellites to drones, to increase yields and bring costs down. You are managing your land to the benefit of nature.’
With von der Leyen’s words ringing in my ears, I was sitting beside the German Ambassador to Ireland at a function last week.
He recounted the utter dependency on energy that developed between Germany and Russia much to the detriment of the country of late. What some individual German leaders thought were meaningful and trustworthy relationships turned sour and problematic.
The German outsourcing of energy had a huge impact on the German economy and it still suffers as a result.
Premium car brands like Mercedes will survive, but, other household German car brands like Volkswagen are coming under increasing pressure. Cost inflation pressures and growing competition from other car manufacturers undermine competitiveness.
Is food back in favour?
Cars are to Germany what food and farming is to Ireland. Despite the recent leadership changes in Brussels and the sympathetic words from President von der Leyen above, there has been little real evidence of the ‘next phase of the European Green Deal’ for farmers.
Judging actions rather than words or sentiment, it certainly looks like the EU is open to allowing Irish and EU production fall further.
At the same time we see protectionist behaviour from other countries again to the fore. This week the evidence comes from fertiliser markets. The Chinese have put their arms around what nitrogen they have in order to tighten the market for others, but, also to retain more for the home market. India will have to source nitrogen elsewhere and that has knock on effects that ripple back to Ireland in higher cost product.
EU policy is still pummelling Irish farming with very questionable benefits to the environment, if any. This time last year, we had suspicions and in the last number of months they have been crystallised. The Nitrates Derogation reduction confirmed in September is the latest anti-food policy rolled out.
We still don’t have a land use strategy published, and between special areas of conservation and bird habitats, it’s easier to plan for what you can’t do
Targeting stock reduction for the best farmers at managing nutrients flies in the face of the drones, satellites, science and innovations that von der Leyen talks about.
Stock reduction is about as broad a brushstroke as you can get. Furthermore, classifying most of the country for stock reduction due to an annual comparison our minister admits is wrong again undermines von der Leyen’s words.
Think of the other stand-out items from last year’s budget. The growing proportion of the budget diverted towards organics.
Some experts suggest the resultant increase in organic produce is expected to be minimal despite the fact there will soon be 6,000 organic farmers.
The much lauded new forestry scheme is still flat on its face with little or no activity in planting. Unless the upcoming budget brings something in the line of a renewed premium for those farmers affected with ash dieback, it could remain in the doldrums.
We still don’t have a land use strategy published, and between special areas of conservation and bird habitats, it’s easier to plan for what you can’t do.
Darren Carty outlines where the budget battles lie.
However, the minister needs to recognise we have a tillage sector under real viability pressure, a sheep sector with little support, a dairy sector asked to destock, and a suckler sector in decline.
All of this while farmers have little or no real alternative income generators available yet, such as solar, forestry, or premium organic markets. In her speech, von der Leyen spoke of the challenges to farming in Andalucia in southern Spain and floods in Italy. Minister McConalogue doesn’t have to venture off this island for challenges.