Monday 26 September 2016

Beef: Pride has been restored to farming despite all our problems

John Heney

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

Denis Brosnan
Denis Brosnan

As we waited for the daffodils to remind us that spring had arrived, their place was usurped by the sudden appearance of multi-coloured election posters on nearly every telephone and lamp post in the country. These posters, some with lush green backgrounds, others with images of bright blue skies and deep golden hues now dominate our landscape.

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With voting day rapidly approaching this is probably a good time to take a quick look at what has been happening in farming over the last five years.

Unfortunately very little has happened in cattle farming with incomes continuing to remain unsustainably low. The critically important de-coupled Single Payment Scheme has now morphed into the 'Basic Payment' scheme. There have also been some adjustments in the level of these payments with reductions to larger beneficiaries while smaller beneficiaries have seen modest increases to their payments.

During the 2013 CAP reform debate, efforts by some prominent politicians to transform EU beef support payments into a populist form of social welfare scheme did not succeed. It is interesting to note, however, that repercussions from these events are still being felt by one of our farming organisations.

I believe that the single most important change over the last five years is that a real sense of pride has been restored to Irish farming. For the first time ever, the Irish public now appear to fully appreciating how critically important agriculture is to our economy.

I believe Minister Simon Coveney, whom I have often been critical of in the past, deserves much credit.

So what have our farming organisations been up to during the same period?

Leaving aside recent controversy, it is difficult to see any hope for the future of cattle farming emerging from any of our farming organisations. Their constant huffing and puffing would appear to be more about justifying their own existence than actually helping farmers.

Constructive leadership which puts the future of the 'Irish farmer' to the fore has never been so badly needed.

Speaking of visionaries I recently had the privilege of attending a talk on the future of Ireland's dairy and beef sectors given by one of Ireland's greatest agricultural visionaries, Denis Brosnan.

In a major coup for the North Tipperary Foxhounds who organised the event Mr Brosnan gave, what was only his second public address to a farmers' meeting since he retired from the Kerry Group over a year ago.

It was very chastening to listen to Mr Brosnan spell out what he saw as the future of Irish farming.

In order to survive in what is now a global marketplace, farmers will not only have to be super efficient but will also have to be brave enough to borrow to expand. Mr Brosnan remarked that as global food prices continue to fall, small inefficient producers will disappear.

I also found it interesting to note that when questioned on the potential environmental effect of this expansion in food production Mr Brosnan appeared quite confident that a great deal of scientific research was already underway on ways to address these issues. He mentioning anaerobic digesters as one option.

However, Mr Brosnan's emphasis on the development of 'Grey Infrastructure', such as transport infrastructure, as a solution would appear to conflict with the EU's more favoured concept of developing 'Green Infrastructure' as a means to alleviate problems associated with more intensive agriculture.

Back on the farm, the cattle I bought-in last cattle autumn continue to do well. I treated them with a pour-on dose for lice and worms soon after housing and it appears to have been very successful.

So apart from having to take out a few animals that were unable to adapt to indoor living, everything appears to be going well. In relation to silage, barring a very bad spring I should be alright.

With the longer spring days and the land drying I had planned to spread slurry and also get lime out on some fields.

However the arrival of Storm Imogen and the harsh weather which followed has put a serious damper on these plans as the accompanying rain quickly restored my farm to its previously sodden state.

It is quite frustrating, but it looks like I will just have to wait until the elements allow me to catch up on these jobs, some things never change!

John Heney farms at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

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