If a robber had a choice between robbing a ball of money from a bank or robbing a pallet of fertiliser, the robber would be better off robbing the pallet of fertiliser because it is worth more, according to Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae.
While acknowledging the €7m fund made available to pig farmers by the Department of Agriculture on Tuesday, Healy-Rae said: “Government has failed to make additional supports available to our other farmers despite the tremendous financial pressures they are facing.”
He said that when it comes to the pressures on Irish farmers, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue is “defending the indefensible” and called on him to put “his hands up” and say that “he knows the Government got this wrong”.
The Kerry TD warned of the input cost pressures facing farmers, including rising fertiliser prices.
He made his comments in a Dáil debate on Wednesday where a motion was brought forward by the Rural Independents group calling for a supplementary budget for rural communities and farmers.
Rising costs and lack of supports is creating a situation where young people are running away from the responsibility of trying to run the family farm, according to Seán Canney TD.
Supporting the motion, Canney said he has spoken to “about five sets of parents this week who have told me nobody is willing to take on the farm”.
He said the knock-on effect of this “down the line” will that Ireland will be producing less food.
The Galway TD said farmers are in a “serious predicament” as input costs are wiping out any marginal increases in output costs.
He told fellow TDs that fertiliser prices went up by 86.9% in 2020, electricity prices have gone up over 22%, fuel prices are up 40% and feedstuff prices have gone up 15.9%.
“The price of the plastic needed to wrap the bales of silage has doubled and will add to the increased costs of harvesting the round bale for farmers,” he said.
Canney said his “plea to the Government” is to ask them to consider the current situation regarding input costs “as an urgent crisis for farming”.
Sligo-Leitrim TD Marian Harkin said farmers are being “squeezed at both ends” due to “rising costs of virtually all inputs” and a situation where at the same time “CSO figures show that food prices in December 2021 were 90% of what they were in December 2010”.
She said this is “untenable” and called for a suite of supports for the farming sector.
Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath said that when it comes to agriculture, “the Government is welded to the big conglomerates and the multiple billions of profits they make”.
He said that during the “last three recessions”, it was the “farmers who rescued our economy each time”.
“They provided for people and everything else and will do it again but their spirit is nearly broken. The candle is nearly quenched because the conglomerates are around them, forcing down the prices of products and then buying up the land,” he said.
McGrath called on the Government to “look after the farming community” and warned that if not, “we will not have it”.
Government 'stands behind' farmers
Responding to some of the arguments made by TDs during debate on the Dáil motion, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said: “Whether it’s through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or through direct exchequer supports, this Government stands full square behind our farm families and food producers.”
He said farmers are facing increased fertiliser prices as a result of factors which are “entirely outside of our control”.
“Energy prices remain well above January 2021 levels and increased global demand continues, particularly from the big grain-producing countries. Increased transport costs and EU-imposed tariffs and duties on certain third-country imports are also adding to prices.”
The Minister said this “spike” in cost “will have an impact on farmer margins in 2022”. However, he highlighted that farmers, led by advice from his Department and Teagasc, are “taking steps to reduce usage and mitigate, where possible, the worst effects of the increases”.
Minister McConalogue said: “Last year, I tasked Teagasc with laying out a credible roadmap to help farmers reduce their dependency on chemical fertiliser in the short and medium term.
“Last month, I launched the 2022 soils, nutrients and fertiliser campaign at Teagasc’s Ballyhaise College in response to the unprecedented fertiliser price levels. This roadmap can be good for the environment and good for the pocket.”