A Christmas wish list for Irish farmers

Eight things on the Santa list to make 2024 an easier year than 2023

1st Published in The Farming Independent on December 6th, 2023.

Michael Brady.

Agricultural Consultant and managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents.

The festive season is fast approaching, it’s time to think about what we want for Christmas.

I asked myself the question; ‘What would an Irish Farmer ask of Santa Clause for 2024?

Here’s are the items on the Farmers Christmas list:

  1. Good Weather

Owning and managing a farm business today is a very complicated job. Lots of specialised skills are required of the farmer and the backup team of family, staff and professional advisors. However, the weather or ‘the man above’ as many farmers say when referring to the unpredictable Irish weather, it will always have a big say in determining the outcome of any particular year. 2023 for example was a very wet year which made crops impossible to harvest and grass difficult to manage. So, whether it’s a drought or a deluge the first wish is for a favourable weather year for farmers in 2023.

  • Healthy Profit

Whether you are a low cost or high input/output livestock or tillage producer the plan is that the system of production on your farm will deliver a healthy profit for 2024. Sales prices have eased considerably from the highs of 2022, but the input cost of feed and fertiliser are also in retreat from their recent highs. The recent Teagasc Outlook Report for 2024 was very positive and presented a good basis to be optimistic about healthy profits.

  • Labour Availability

Large and small farm businesses all employ some form of external labour onto the farm. Whether it is a fulltime farm manager supplied with a house and jeep or just casual labour to milk the cows and look after the place while attending a wedding or an important game, the availability of good labour is essential on farms. Labour has been difficult to employ for all industries of late, let’s hope it improves for the better in 2024. 

  • Climate Change Realism

The climate crisis is real and yes, agriculture is contributing 40% of Irelands Green House Gas (GHG)Emissions. Ruminant livestock (beef, diary, sheep and goats) are 70% of the agricultural emissions. Farmers know and accept this fact and are well on the way to reducing these numbers. Please, Irish Public, let’s give farmers some time to get on with the job and stop blaming them at every juncture.

  • Resolve the Nitrates / Water Quality Debate

Water quality in Ireland is good when compared to other countries on a global scale, however in simple terms our pristine waters are disimproving and our poor waters are improving combining to leave the water quality in the country somewhat static. I agree this situation must be improved and the graph placed firmly on an improvement path.

Dairy farmers are being blamed for the static water quality but the reality is the picture is a lot more complicated than that. Others such as Local Authorities, forestry, tillage farmers and beef farmers are all in the water quality equation too. It is time to put in place a creditable/negotiated practical plan of action for all stakeholders and stop drawing lines on maps and creating stocking rate limits on excel sheet and expecting it to resolve the issue. 

  • Public and Social Media Relief

Farmers have been unfairly targeted on public and social media channels in respect of GHG, water quality and animal welfare.

Yes, farmers have a reputation for complaining but the vitriol and abuse aimed at the industry of late is beyond reason. At least in the mainstream media people are upfront and visible so industry representatives can give as good as they get. However, the same is not true for social media channels where anonymous accounts are responsible for creating havoc, an example being the recent riots in Dublin instigated by the far right. Accounts holders should be verified and persistent abusers brought to justice through fines and the court system.   

  • Sensible Politics

We have an election next year, ministers and TD’s are looking for votes. The polls are presently projecting a big swing to Sinn Fein and the left. The ‘alternative budget’ recently published makes for scary reading for landowners and farmers, with big increases suggested in stamp duty and capital taxes. Farmers are wishing that the economic miracle that is Ireland Inc. is not destroyed and that common sense will prevail. Whoever is elected into power should try and fix the housing problem, but also recognise the majority of our policies are working. Our little state is the envy of the world, that why people are queuing up to live here. If it’s not broken why fix it.  

  • Simpler Fewer Schemes

There is presently ‘Scheme Fatigue’ emerging amongst farmers and their advisors. Too many schemes, deadlines, rules and penalties are all eroding away at the enthusiasm of farmers and advisors to participate. Yes, farmers love a good scheme, a good scheme will achieve a positive outcome for The Planet, The EU, The Irish State, the Farmer and the Advisor. The reduction in value of entitlements and the cost of carrying out the work/tasks in many schemes have eroded the financial benefit to many farm businesses. Combine this with the time input required and lack of labour on farms, many farmers are asking why participate at all? This must be recognised and addressed. 

So when making a wish list Stanta Clause apparently knows when you’ve been sleeping, and he knows when your awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so Irish farmers you better be good for goodness sake. Happy Christmas and prosperous 2024.