It's great to be optimistic, but let's be realistic too
Published 05/04/2011 | 05:00
Hope springs eternal, and this spring with the expectation of further increases in the price of beef, there seems to be more hope around than usual. In fact, such is the current level of confidence, many farmers appear prepared to pay as much for stores as they got for their beef cattle last autumn.
Anybody involved in beef production will know that this is nothing new as there have been many years in the past when cattle have lost money. Beef farming is really not for the faint-hearted.
A friend correctly pointed out to me that even with the current rises in prices, people who fed store cattle over the winter won't have made much money from them either. The reality is that as production costs continue to rise, it is now impossible to produce beef in Ireland without someone in the production chain getting their fingers badly burned and losing money.
So how is all this confidence justified? According to Food Harvest 2020, our beef sector can look forward to an 'increase of 20pc in value of output' using 'smart' and 'green' production systems. Unfortunately we have heard it all before.
It's now more than 20 years since growth promoters were quite rightly banned. At that time farmers were assured that, based on increased consumer demand, an increase in the price for our more naturally produced product would more than offset any loss in output. But what happened? Beef prices started to fall and have continued to fall ever since!
This report somewhat tediously repeats the adjective 'smart' no less than 26 times but still appears unable to differentiate between such basic concepts as 'natural food' and 'functional food'.
Furthermore, it contains only superficial acknowledgment of the current global economic turmoil caused by the rapidly rising costs of energy which is an indispensable ingredient in modern food production systems. I also didn't find the blatant bias in favour of one particular farm advisory services to the exclusion of many of our finest agricultural experts very reassuring either.
Some people may feel that I'm being unreasonable in my comments about this report. But a body promoting strategies, which by its own admission won't even get prices back up to where they were 20 years ago does little to inspire confidence. With respect, I would suggest that a far more objective picture of where we are going in agriculture could be gained by consulting some excellent independent publications currently available.