The results of our survey on page 8 and 9 this week show little real change in political support for the main government parties compared to previous surveys. This could probably be classified as a surprisingly positive result for both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael after what happened on Irish farms in 2023.

Some farmers are deeply frustrated with politicians and their defence and respect for food and farming in Ireland.

Our farmer survey was carried out to get a handle on farmers views and voting preferences ahead of what some believe might be an election year towards the end of 2024.

Remember rural independents and opposition TD’s were reportedly gaining momentum during 2023.

This time last year, launching the Climate Action plan for 2023 we had the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar clearly calling out that ‘very attractive’ incentives were needed to encourage farmers to switch enterprises in 2023.

The line was these incentive schemes should be set up to encourage farmers to voluntarily diversify into organic, solar, anaerobic digestion, forestry, tillage, and into other areas of agriculture.

Much to the annoyance of many farmers Minister Eamon Ryan said at the same launch that farmers had to switch from “dairy into tillage to help us reduce the pollution that we’re seeing in this country.”

So what did happen in 2023? Within two weeks of the ‘incentives’ speech Minister McConalogue binned the possibility of a suckler exit scheme. The dairy exit scheme was put on ice and remains on ice.

Legacy issues

Despite the launch of an EU backed, large scale forestry incentive scheme other Irish forestry legacy issues such as licencing, disease compensation, and the permanent nature of forestry have flattened any real farmer demand before it even gets off the ground.

Tillage area is expected to fall further after a disastrous weather year, high costs and a very wet backend.

Competition for land has further intensified in both tillage and dairy areas meaning there will probably be less tillage, not more. On the renewables front, solar continues to grow, but the TAMS grant delays continue to frustrate real numbers of farmers investing.

Only very limited numbers of farmers can generate additional income from selling surplus solar energy.

A long promised, much anticipated anaerobic digestion strategy to ignite ambitious targets is set to be launched shortly.

In the South, little or no investment in AD plants has taken place. The organic roadshow was super charged and generous incentives mean there are now over 5,000 farmers on the organic train, however, real market frailties continue.

So, in summary, 2023 promised big on incentives for dairy and suckler farmers but nothing materialised. Regulatory and policy changes have made both more difficult with little or no meaningful, additional, year on year support.

Apart from organics fringe farming sectors like solar, forestry, and anaerobic digestion flounder, with maybe solar stuttering at best.

The three aforementioned Ministers gathered at a the ICMSA AGM six weeks ago.

Melting pot

At the time the Nitrates debacle was still in the melting pot. A week later the Taoiseach was unable to convince the EU Commissioner of any leniency.

This put the final nail into the 250 organic nitrogen coffin. This could well prove to be a profound change in the direction of grass-based Irish farming.

However, farming has seen many twists before and farmers continue to invest in profitable sustainable businesses.

So where now for 2024?

The outlook is promising. The Teagasc policy experts suggest the cost of key farm inputs will reduce further.

A scarcity of beef and dairy proteins looks set to see beef and milk price rise. Farmer margins look set to climb in 2024.

Sensible, businesslike farmers won’t or can’t linger on broken political promises.

Ironically, maybe the delayed CAP payout and the first of the ACRES cheques helped sway end-of-year farmer opinion and reinforced existing political goodwill.

Time will tell.

Irish Farmers Journal – 75 years on

Looking into the past for too long won’t deliver long-term benefits for farmers. It is however, important to celebrate the successes of Irish farmers and agri businesses and the change that has happened in rural Ireland.

As fibre optic broadband continues to be rolled out across the country the benefits to isolated rural areas could be as significant as the first light switches in the 1950s. Ironically the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses into a decentralisation of sorts that allows many, including many of our Irish Farmers Journal staff, to work from rural Ireland for at least a number of days per week. Part-time farming continues to grow and evolve.

Our special 75th supplement and content in Irish Country Living this week charts some of the past changes. The innovation, the development, the constant change means Irish food and farming won’t and can’t rest on its laurels for very long.

The competitive nature of the export business means the industry has to be on its toes at all times.

While staying close to our core mission to support the economic wellbeing of farms, families and rural businesses across Ireland the Irish Farmers Journal must change also as readers habits and preferences change. Without your support this journey could not happen.

Our independence is our core strength and that comes from your support, so a big thank you on behalf of the team for that as we march on into the next 75 years.

Beef price rise

A tight market globally and on this island is lifting beef price. The US suckler beef herd is at its lowest since 1962 with 28.9m beef cows. Many parts of the US continue to suffer with drought and beef price is rising so heifers go to slaughter rather than go in calf.

Closer to home, in Northern Ireland there was a drop of over 10,000 suckler cows in the last year so there are now 236,000 suckler cows, the lowest in 35 years, on 13,800 suckler farms averaging 17 cows per farm.

Yes there are slightly more dairy cows at 320,000 and almost 1m sheep in Northern Ireland, however, beef price is rising fast. Suck calves are more plentiful at this time of the year in Northern Ireland and four to six week old beef bred calves from dairy cows are making £300 per head. Most recent NI beef base quotes are 454 p/kg – the highest in 12 weeks for U3 grading animals, with 474p/kg widely available for in spec stock.

The slide in Southern suckler numbers also continuews with the biggest drop recorded in 10 years from June to June 2023.

This week Southern prices also continue to lift with reports that agents are doing whatever Christmas deals they have to do to secure stock with some deals upwards of €5.30/kg flat for quality stock. The message is sell hard as prime stock are and will remain tight.