Down the ages, land and farmers have produced food, fuel and fibre. Taking the last first – the only fibre we now produce in these regions is wool, traditionally a highly-priced and highly-prized product.

It’s still highly-priced in the fashion outlets of the world, but not to farmer producers. The example of wool is a huge warning of how a totally unregulated market can place farmers in a hopeless position vis-à-vis their powerful customers.

The vocation most farmers feel most comfortable with is as food producers, and that is seen as our most natural contribution to society, but the more secure the supply seems to be, the more unregulated the trading conditions become.

In countries with enormous populations such as China and India, governments manage food supply, imports and prices carefully to ensure their people are fed and that national food productive capacity is maintained.


Europe had a similar view after the war-induced shortages of the 1940s and 1950s, but the comfort of adequate supplies in more recent years has pushed food security way down the priority list until the war in Ukraine caused a temporary panic, but farmers are again wondering where the real European commitment to food production, prices and living standards for farmers is.

The contrast with fuel could not be greater. Traditionally, fuel meant timber and wood. There is little need to comment on where Ireland’s forestry policy has led us to. But today, fuel from land means on-farm energy production.

For the last few weeks, the Irish Farmers Journal, supported by FBD Insurance, IFA and Bord Gáis Energy, has been having a number of renewable energy meetings.

These have been astonishingly well attended as farmers absorb the levels of return possible, the guarantee in many case of inflation-linked prices and the new imperative of green energy and a willingness to pay for it.

Availing themselves of this opportunity, especially in the solar field, will strike many farmers as a denial of their true vocation as farmers. Yet, if there is an expanding town nearby or a major manufacturer that wants green energy from a renewable source to meet their sustainability objectives, then should farmers be penalised or discouraged from using their land to produce energy from the sun’s rays rather than food?

I should disclose that I have signed an option in favour of a solar farm development at an income that is not at this stage attainable from any other use of the land, while still retaining ownership of it.

Will the project come to fruition? At this stage it looks likely, but time will tell.