Fermoy seminar told 2018 will be a 'defining year' for Irish agriculture
Impact of Brexit, CAP reform, trade deals and climate change discussed at seminar
"This year will be a defining one for Irish agriculture."
That was the message from IFA president Joe Healy to the more than 400 farmers and industry stakeholders who attended a recent seminar organised by the AIB at the Corrin Marts Events Centre in Fermoy.
The Corkman reports that issues of Brexit, CAP reform, trade deals and climate change were high on the agenda at the meeting, which was also addressed by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, Dairygold CEO Jim Woulfe and AIB agri advisor Tadgh Buckley.
Mr Healy said each of the of the four issues individually had the potential to influence the sustainability and structural make-up of the industry and that "collective, holistic thinking and swift action" was needed at all levels of the food-chain to ensure the needs of Irish farmers were met.
"Nowhere is this more required than in meeting our climate change targets," said Mr Healy, who pointed out that Irish farmers were among the most carbon efficient dairy and beef producers in Europe.
"We have done a lot to meet the climate change targets with initiatives such as the SMART farming initiative but we can do more," he said. He went on to warn of the dangers of a Mercusor deal replacing carbon-efficient production with beef from South America, pointing out that "producing a kilo of beef in Brazil leaves four times the carbon footprint of a kilo of beef produced in Ireland".
Minister Creed suggested CAP had delivered affordable food to consumers, but post 2020, there will likely be a greater focus on the sustainability agenda and a strong environmental focus.
He said there was no upside to Brexit, and that Ireland would like the transitional arrangement to last as "long as possible" and that it would be "preferable" to maintain the status quo. However, Minister Creed did challenge the sustainability of focusing too much on the UK market.
"Geographic location is an obvious and important reason why we are so dependent on the UK market, but is 40% of Irish agri-food exports to a single market not excessive? Is it not prudent to diversify to other markets, despite our continued trade with the UK market?"
Commenting on the same issue, Mr Woulfe said that with 18% of Ireland's milk pool going into one product (cheddar) in one market, Brexit would have a "significant negative impact" on the Irish dairy industry.
Outlining recent dairy market trends and sentiment shifts, Mr Woulfe said a that a milk price correction was due - suggesting an annual price of 30c/litre at current commodity prices.
However, he said there were a number of factors that could influence this, Chinese import demand, global supply response to a declined milk price exchange rate volatility and Brexit being among these.
Tadhg Buckley said that while the Irish agri sector was in a strong position and delivering for the Irish economy, it was essential that "we all position ourselves for the future to mitigate the challenges ahead".
He encouraged farmers to control the controllable inside the farm gate and to identify the break-even price for their farms.
"It's only when you know where you stand that you can implement corrective strategies where necessary," he said.
The seminar concluded with a farm safety plea to all present to be on their guard as the sector faces into one of its busiest periods of the year.
"We can talk about the risk of Brexit, CAP reform and other issues, but they all pale in significance if one of us or our family members experience a serious farm accident or farm fatality," said Minister Creed.
"Too many of us know someone or a farm family that have experienced a serious farm accident or fatality. It has to stop," he added.
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