While the young farmers marching under the Macra banner cut a jovial and carefree mood with loud music to spur them on their journey, a very deep frustration on a number of fronts is the very reason why they are marching.
The flight of comrades to greener fields across the world makes young farmers uneasy. They see the pressure family farms are coming under in terms of tight margins that may need to be split between two or even three generations of farmers. The constant imposition of new environmental rules and tightening Governmental regulations is also hampering the vision that farming needs for long-term investment and value growth.
Young farmers are making very big investments in equipment and new technology to meet new and exacting standards and yet they are now getting hit with limits on production and reduced grant aid.
The frustration builds when they get tarnished with the lazy, broad brushstroke of mainstream media that maintains farmers are marching because they are fighting against the green agenda.
This builds anger. On the green agenda, the opposite is in fact the truth. Young and energetic farmers are some of the best adopters of new green technology in what traditionally is a low-margin business with highs and lows.
Show me any other industry in Ireland that has made the same significant investment for a relatively small business that has market risk on both the input and the output side.
The days of fixed milk pricing as we know them are gone on the dairy side according to Ornua. Only a small proportion of beef farmers are on contracts.
Grain farmers are hit with the same input-output cost-price squeeze. Global commodity prices go up and down.
We all know that give or take 100 cows will maintain one farm family. However, the reality in rural Ireland is that there are often two generations dependent on income from 100 to 150 cows.
In this way, the Department of Agriculture imposing a blanket cow size restriction on grant aid for herds over 120 in size is effectively a negative to family farms and in reality is counterproductive to the family farm model.
The Government counters the young farmer negativity by saying there are now 300 items grant aided. Let’s be real – the grant aid budget for capital development (TAMS) is broadly the same as the scheme launched five years ago. Meanwhile, everything has gone up in price, over 30% in some cases. Hence the relative value of TAMS is much less.
Yes young new entrants get five years of support, but you don’t just stop being a young farmer after five years.
On top of this put the increasing cost of even more stringent environmental legislation and you get a sense why Macra is marching.
Politicians mention the opportunity for farmers to join forestry, tillage and organics as alternatives, however, ambition to date is not matched by government action. Opening the grant capital investment schemes for young farmers would be a good start.
While the young farmers are marching, the older generation of farmers are at crowded IFA succession meetings as they search for a viable exit strategy from the business.
It’s clear that some form of a sensible exit scheme needs to be aligned to a young farmer investment scheme.
At the moment young or old aren’t happy. Macra is calling for engagement – they realise there is no silver bullet, but want to highlight that loose ambition needs strong actions rather than idealistic notions.