Viewpoint: Politics and policies do count, so make sure you vote this Friday
Published 23/02/2016 | 02:30
Who do farmers need representing them in the next Government?
Is it Labour who tried to include farm assets in means tests for college grants? Or is it Fianna Fail, whose promise of €200 per suckler cow smacks of auction politics?
Or Sinn Fein, who have mooted a tax on all assets worth over €1m? While not included in their election manifesto, and apparently limited to farms that do not generate an income, it sounds woolly to me. How many farms will not be able to generate an income in 2016 with the way price trends are going?
During the unending political debates that have dominated the air-waves and print media over the last month, it is disconcerting how little time or comment has been given by politicians to the impending income crisis in farming.
In the aftermath of the boom, farmers were commended for providing one of the few growth areas of an otherwise imploding economy.
But now, when the country appears to be turning a corner and all the signs are for an annus horribilis in agriculture, the farming community looks in danger of becoming an after-thought. Apart from highlighting his jobs plan for rural Ireland during a visit to a sheep shed in Co Carlow, have you heard Enda Kenny mention farming in his many interviews?
So what do farmers need from a ruling party or coalition? Dairying is as good a case study as any.
Up to last April, the safety-net of the quota system effectively put a floor under dairy incomes. Now it is up to the sector itself to ensure that there's a living to be made out of it.
This includes co-ops ensuring that forward price contracts are available to help farmers park some of the risk of increasingly volatile markets. We need to see the smaller co-ops that don't have big enough customers to offer this working more closely together.
We also need access to credit at fair rates to bankroll sound businesses through downturns.
But we need our politicians to actively push the agenda on these issues. Why is a Glanbia initiative on getting cheaper credit to farmers that was proposed in 2014 still months away from being available?
Farmers also need to foster a taxation policy that helps them deal with the wild swings of the commodity markets. The Government has made progress on this, but it hasn't exhausted all the options yet, and foot-dragging when markets are crashing is no use.
They also need somebody who is on their side when they are up against immeasurably more powerful forces. The beef sector, and the recent recalculation of factory weight limits, is a case in point.
Who we have in power does count, and what they are saying - or aren't as the case may be - is important. So make sure your voice is heard, and cast a vote this Friday.