2020 needs to be a year of unity for farmers

Michael Brady.

Agricultural Consultant and managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents. The Lodge, Lee Road, Cork.

Tel: 021- 45 45 120     email: mike@bradygroup.ie

Every year farming is characterised by an event or occurrence which will be etched it in the memory of the wider agricultural community for years to come. The drought of 2018, removal of milk quotas in 2015 and the horrible wet weather of 2012/13 are such examples.

What will the year 2019 be remembered for? 

For me, 2019 will be remembered as the year when farmers turned on farmers.

Love them or hate them, for years the IFA, ICMSA and Macra na Feirme have represented Irish farmers with strength and unity. They have vast experience, contacts and more importantly a structure from grass root local branches all the way to the decision-making process in Brussels to assist and enhance the knowledge of members in the decision-making process.

In recent decades the strength of trade unions in all industries have significantly diminished, farmers were the exception, until 2019.  

The emergence of Beef Plan Movement (BPM) and Independent Farmers of Ireland (IFoI) in 2019 together with the Irish Cattle & Sheep Association (ICSA) and Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association(INHFA) have only served to turn farmers against farmers and is only serving to divide and conquer the Irish farmer lobby movement.

The feedback I’m getting at farm level is that the average farmer is disappointed with the recent performance of the established farm organisations, but they are utterly embarrassed with the actions of the newer populist movements.

Today, it has never been easier to set up a new organisation or movement, all one needs is a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat account and away you go. Your family does not have to be steeped in the history of the organisation, you don’t have to know the other members of the organisation or even pay a membership fee.

The disruption presently happening in the Irish farmer lobby movement is not new or unique, this new form protest/lobbying is evident all over the globe i.e. The Yellow Vest Movement in France, Anti-Government Protesters in Hong Kong and Chile, but the best example for us is the Brexit Party in the UK.

What is interesting to recognise and understand is that these organisations or movements will cease to exist as quickly as they were set up, for example there will be no need for a Brexit Party in the UK after 31st of January next.     

So how do we build unity amongst farmers?

Surely the first step is to join together in a ‘pop-up umbrella coalition’ and present a united front to fight for ‘the cause’. I highlight the ‘the cause’ as I believe it must be, cause by cause.  

 It will take a brave leader in any of the current organisations to promote this suggestion, but it’s as clear as night follows day that without unity amongst farmers all causes will fail.

If organisations put their differences aside and form a ‘pop-up umbrella coalition’ of farmers to fight for an identified common cause this would show great strength and unity in the industry.  Such coalitions would only be temporary or for a limited period of time until the cause is achieved, or a particular protest exhausted.

For example, the recent/ongoing beef protests would have been me much more effective if such a temporary coalition was formed to fight for the common cause.

Achieving the stated goals of an individual cause will then increase credibility and foster support for this new temporary ‘pop-up umbrella coalition’ type approach. 

The next step is to figure out what exactly to fight for. This will be the most difficult task of all, as it’s the very reason why we have so many organisations in the first place, they cannot agree on what to fight for.

We have to start with the bigger picture where there is a huge onus on government via the Department in Agriculture Food and Marine (DAFM) and all stakeholders  to set out a clear and detailed pathway for the industry. I recently attended and open policy debate on Irelands Agri Food Strategy for 2030.

As the EU primarily determines agricultural policy in this country the upcoming EU- Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) reform is the place to start.

The following are the stated nine specific objectives of the Common Agriculture Policy post 2020:

1.          support viable farm income and resilience across the Union to enhance food security;

2.          enhance market orientation and increase competitiveness, including greater focus on research, technology and digitalisation;

3.          improve the farmers’ position in the value chain;

4.          contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as sustainable energy;

5.          foster sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air;

6.          contribute to the protection of biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services and preserve habitats and landscapes;

7.          attract young farmers and facilitate business development in rural areas;

8.          promote employment, growth, social inclusion and local development in rural areas, including bio-economy and sustainable forestry;

9.          improve the response of EU agriculture to societal demands on food and health, including safe, nutritious and sustainable food, food waste, as well as animal welfare.

It is stated by DAFM the ‘those objectives will be complemented by the cross-cutting objective of modernising the sector in fostering and sharing of knowledge, innovation and digitalisation in agriculture and rural areas.’

These are very high level objectives, but the real challenge is for us as an industry to distill these lofty objectives into a clear stratgic plan with clear goals and specific actions and tasks outline to execute the plan.

A clear strategic plan will provide the platform and pathway for the industry. A strong farm lobby organisation/movement will buy into such a plan and lead the way by forming ‘pop-up unbrella coalitions’ to keep the plan on track to benefit of its farmer members.

Let make 2020 the year that is recognised for the re-unification of the Irish farm lobby movement.