Over the last two weeks, I have observed the candidates for the European elections around the country as they participated in the IFA-organised election hustings in two rural constituency regions.

Well done to the candidates that actually turned up to discuss food and farming in Ireland. All 51 candidates were invited to these events well in advance. Factoring in party decisions to avoid overlaps, about half of the candidates didn’t turn up to any of the meetings.

On each night, as a rough rule of thumb, about half of those present actively engaged meaningfully with the audience and the questions posed.

The failure to attend and the poor engagement by some goes to show the growing disconnect between food producers and farmers, and those representing Ireland and Irish farmers in Brussels.

Never before has there been such a requirement for a strong voice for Irish food producers. The budget for supporting farmers to produce food has been slashed in real terms.

Not only that, but a whole new set of rules and regulations around sustainability and the environment have been initiated, or are in process, largely funded from the same budget.

This income issue is central and crucial to survival, sustainability and the ongoing viability of food producers in Ireland.

From both the floor and the candidates, we heard a separate budget in addition to the CAP budget is required. Ask the candidates who come to your doorstep for their solution to the declining budget and the extra environmental requirements.

The issues that farmers feel affect their livelihoods are very different either side of the Shannon.

The questions from farmers in the North West and Midlands constituency centred around convergence of the CAP payments (or flattening for the BISS) and where suckler and sheep farming fits into the future.

Hot topic

However, the Nitrates derogation was a hot topic in Claremorris also, and when all the candidates suggested water quality had to improve to retain the derogation, it sparked reaction.

At the very mention of water quality, anger levels rose among the western farmers, and the very same happened in Kilkenny. They pleaded with the candidates to understand Irish water quality is up with the best in Europe, and science suggests stocking rate per se is down the list in terms of influencing water quality.

In Kilkenny, the farmers again pleaded with the candidates to explain how can farmers be expected to invest, how can farmers who have already invested millions and millions, invest anymore without some vision or clarity on what stocking rate they are allowed.

There were no plausible solutions forthcoming other than to seek more time and clarity. Retention of the Nitrates derogation is a key issue for everyone to query when candidates come asking for a vote, because the retention of the Nitrates derogation affects all farmers – not just dairy farmers.

Separately, the common theme across all venues was a declining farmer margin and income. Farmers in Claremorris stood up from the floor and voiced concerns about the next generation and what will be needed to keep farmers on the land.

They felt the declining margin for part-time farmers was going to mean the next generation is simply not going to take on the burden.

Even in the south and east of the country, after a horrendous autumn and spring, farmers are seeing wafer thin margins and large scale losses.

I know farmers don’t like talking down the industry that they own and passionately work in every day. However, the sheer weight of paperwork, regulation and risk associated with the weather that they have to deal with day-in, day-out is putting the best of farmers under mental and financial pressure.


Irish farmers adhere to the highest global standards. Irish farmers want to and do attain top class grains and unique grass-fed quality proteins.

However, if European and national rules are pulling them down, you get the sense they are not willing to continue. Before polling on Friday 7 June, farmers need to identify who best represents your interests and your livelihood.

If you get the opportunity to meet candidates, ask them the key questions above that are central to the survival of food and farming in Ireland.

A declining CAP budget and retention of the Nitrates derogation are central issues that candidates will need to understand and fight for. If they can’t do that on your doorstep, the likelihood is they won’t do it in Brussels.