Friday 30 September 2016

Food for thought at farm shows

Published 12/08/2015 | 02:30

Mairead McGuinness MEP.
Mairead McGuinness MEP.

Last weekend was one of the busiest in the food and farm show calendar.

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Two events that I got to - the Taste of Cavan and Tullamore Show ­­- were big successes providing plenty of food for thought, in every sense of the word.

Tullamore Show was blessed with balmy weather that had the large crowds lingering into the evening.

The Taste of Cavan continues to confound the sceptics - Cavan not being traditionally renowned as a foodie mecca. But the 30,000 that turned up at the Cavan Equestrian Centre obviously think differently.

And despite the strong emphasis on local producers, the event has grown into itself that it is now attracting producers from future afield.

Indeed it was the Brazilian dairy farmer, Greg Lyndsay that took my attention. He was one of the international speakers at the show, outlining what can only be described as a dairy paradise in central Brazil.

Land blocks of 1,000ha costing €4,000/ha and producing the equivalent of 37t/ha of drymatter, the highest average milk prices in the world curtesy of 750m litre deficit and a rapidly growing population that domestic milk supplies are struggling to keep up with.

No wonder Greg's company, Leitissimo, is undergoing "exponential" expansion. He even had some samples of his milk for Taste of Cavan visitors - it was well received, despite a 24-hour journey here through various airports, taxis and planes.

The contrast with the prospects here for the next 12 months couldn't be more stark. While those who suggested that milk price could drop to as low as 24c/l last autumn were scolded by farm leaders for 'talking down' milk prices, I heard those same leaders claim over the weekend that the 'experts' predicting huge opportunity in dairying never mentioned the possibility of milk prices collapsing to below break-even levels.

Now is the time for more honest analysis. Ireland's MEP for Midlands-North West, Mairead McGuinness, led that charge when she admitted to the Taste of Cavan audience that the outlook for the dairy sector across Europe was "dire".

But she warned that producers should neither rue the abolition of quotas, nor buy into the idea that an increase in intervention prices could solve the problem.

"Even if quotas still existed, we would still be facing a problem with milk price now. And the reality of intervention is that even if the prices were increased, it wouldn't kick in for a number of months. Instead, I think we need other type of 'interventions'."

Whatever those interventions are, the wheels need to be put in motion now to soften the impact of further price falls next spring. Already, banks are preparing to park capital repayments on dairy loans over the next 12 months. They know that whatever pain is being experienced now, it will be a fraction of what lies ahead next spring when the savings from 2014's high prices runs dry.

Indo Farming

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