As the support from Government ebbs away, it’s a lonely profession for farmers

1st Published 28/02/2022

Michael Brady.

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

2021 Review:

‘Despite the ongoing pandemic, the agri-sector performed strongly in 2021. Farm incomes increased by 20% in 2021 compared to 2020 driven by good weather, low input costs, and decade high agri-commodity prices. Brexit has had little impact with the UK still remaining the largest market for agri-exports. Sentiment and investment appetite is up and farmers are coming into 2022 in a relatively strong state.’ 

2022 Outlook:

‘The sector continues to prove its resilience and overall, the long-term outlook remains positive due to continued population growth and our ability to produce high quality premium products that are globally’.

This an excellent ‘state of the nation’ description of the agri-sector in a recently published report by one of the pillar banks. Our industry has had a wonderful decade, rising from being described as a ‘sunset industry’ by former Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan in 2006, to the ‘only show in town’ industry after the world economic crash in 2008 and now onto the flagship industry of world renown in 2022.

However, to farmers and those of us working on the ground in the agri-industry, it certainly does not feel that way, in fact, it feels quite the opposite. It beginning to like a feel lonely industry where both public and governmental support is slowly but surely ebbing away.

Where is the praise for a decade of achievement and the real leadership/plan for the decade ahead?

Pippa Hackett the Green Party Minister for State in the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine (DAFM) spoke to the Seanad last week. This was her opening statement;  

We are good at labelling. Of course, this applies to all walks of life but today, I want to challenge our understanding of two ways in which we label farmers. One is loaded with positive assumptions, the other much less so. One is the label “productive or commercial farmer” while the other is the somewhat belittling term “hobby farmer”, which is often used to describe those who farm on a part-time basis.”

This is not an accurate understanding or representation of Irish Farmers. The record €13.5bn of agri-food exports produced by Irish farmers in 2021 was achieved by all farmers, full-time and part-time. Yes, I agree we are good at labelling in Ireland, but in in my experience there two very different labels which much better describe Irish Farmers;  1) Good Farmers (who love farming with a passion) and 2) Bad Farmers (for whom farming is burden). The challenge is to encourage and reward the Good Farmers.  

The Department of Agriculture Food and Marine have now submitted Ireland’s EU CAP Strategic Plan for the 2023-2027 reform. With the opening of Basic Payment Scheme applications for 2022 this week, farmers and their advisors are beginning the process of assessing the impacts of Pillar 1 proposals on individual farm business. The implementation of the new EU CAP 2023-2027 reform in Ireland is the big opportunity to implement change and reward good farmers.  

In truth, whereas there are some innovative ideas such as CRISS (front loading of payments), Young Farmer Top Up increases and new entitlement trading rules, the reality is that it effectively ‘a moving around of the deck chairs’, in an effort to please everybody. I suggest the reform is politically motivated rather than vision centred.

The rocketing input prices is another current issue directly affecting all farmers, pig and poultry famers are presently in the eye of the storm. It is important for policy makers to remember that idealistic notions of farming go out the window when the very survival of an individual farm business is at play. We are not at this place yet, but the early signs are worrying, and yet this impending crisis appears to be smothered by environmental concerns.

The traditional definition of farming, is ‘the activity of growing crops and/or raising animals’, nowadays we add, ‘in an environmentally friendly manner’. All farmers know they are now carbon farmers as well as producing crops and livestock. The time has come for environmentalists and agriculturalists to work together rather than wasting time and energy scoring points in polarised debates.

I have raised this point before, but imagine the power of environmentalists and agriculturalists working together with a common goal to make Irish agri-environment the standard for other countries to follow. This goal is entirely achievable, all that’s missing to the leadership to create a plan, good farmers will implement it, I suggest we reward and encourage them.

It has been said that Agriculture in Ireland is sharing and unproportionate share of the Climate Action burden given its role in sequestering carbon and the ever-increasing implementation of mitigation actions at farm level. This certainly appears to be the case, recently evidenced to me when I filled your car with diesel and the pump advert declared the fuel company to be carbon neutral!

However, I predict with confidence that Irish agriculture will rise to the challenge and shoulder the increased burden for climate action to deliver Irish food production as that having the lowest carbon footprint on the planet in the near future. How soon that happens depends on the leadership shown by policy makers and not populist political point scoring.

Reward Good Farmers they have an unparalleled record of delivery.