One of the current “in” phrases at farming gatherings is “social licence”.

It’s acknowledged as difficult to define and impossible to measure. It came up several times at the Nuffield Ireland gathering held last week in Tullow, Co Carlow.

The first use on the day was by Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who is principally identified with the drive to increase organic farming and forestry.

But in fairness, her well-prepared and thoughtful speech went well beyond those areas, and she spoke of the importance of the tillage area growing and the income generating possibilities for farming of carbon farming, which a later speaker, with some justification, described as being (in regulatory terms) comparable with the wild west.

But to get back to the concept of social licence. How deeply do we in farming feel that it is legitimate to consult and be influenced by other sectors of society when legislation and regulations are being proposed for our sector?

Social media

There is no point in pretending that politicians and regulators are not influenced by what’s on social media.

The decision to ban natural hormones in beef production flew in the face of all scientific evidence

They are, and the greater the volume of activity on a certain subject, the greater the likelihood of regulations to control activity in that area.

Part of new regulatory frameworks in Europe are based on science of varying degrees of the soundness, and some are based on smart-sounding sound-bites, with little real justification.

The decision to ban natural hormones in beef production flew in the face of all scientific evidence, as did Commissioner Timmermans’ (since gone back to the Netherlands to take part in national elections), with his dominance of a badly thought-out “Green Agenda”.

The Nuffield label for the entire meeting was “Finding Common Ground”.

Some years ago, a group of organisations, including the Irish Farmers Journal, IFA, the National Dairy Board (now Ornua) and FBD and Bord Bia set up Agri Aware as a body charged with representing Irish agriculture in the broadest sense to the Irish public.

Call for ‘informed’ view

The present widespread discussions around nitrates, water quality, climate change, income volatility, differential standards for imports, all call for an overall informed view of where Irish agriculture should stand and how these views are communicated to the wider public.

There does not seem much point in reinventing the wheel. The sector should look at what is available and already being funded, and if a revamp is needed, then put the mechanism in place.