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Farmers need politicians who can see the bigger picture on climate debate

Fionnán Sheahan

The parties' lack of vision on agriculture issues has not served rural areas well in the general election campaign


Hands-on canvassing: Fine Gael candidate in Tipperary Mary Newman helped deliver a calf while out canvassing last week. Photo: Mark Condren

Hands-on canvassing: Fine Gael candidate in Tipperary Mary Newman helped deliver a calf while out canvassing last week. Photo: Mark Condren

Hands-on canvassing: Fine Gael candidate in Tipperary Mary Newman helped deliver a calf while out canvassing last week. Photo: Mark Condren

Considering the farming community vote is regarded as being capable of swinging 20 seats in a Dáil, agriculture has barely featured in this general election campaign.

Farming is not unique in this regard. Jobs in tech, manufacturing and services or public sector reform have barely got a look-in either.

The leaders recently all trooped out to Bluebell to make their pitch but the messages were very much aimed at the target audience.

An appetite for change and the catch-all housing and health crises have been the dominant forces in the campaign.

The agri-food sector was described as the backbone of the economic recovery.

During the tough times it was hailed; now it is being taken for granted.

On the canvass, campaigners say the beef price crisis continues to come up as the main farming community issue, but only it seems in areas where farmers are affected - in other words, non-dairy.

Agriculture is featuring primarily through the prism of climate change, where the debate is becoming unnecessarily and inaccurately polarised as farmer versus environmentalist.

Farming can lead the way on climate change; instead it is being scapegoated.

Whether farmers like it or not, there is a perception that emissions from agriculture are a major contributor to emissions.

The debate on agriculture and climate change needs to become more sophisticated than the current blame game. It's still a fledgling discussion that the farming community can influence heavily.

The suspicion towards the Green Party remains in the farmyard.

The party's argument about switching farming systems is overly simplistic, as it depends on a range of factor and there is no 'one-shoe-fits-all' policy.

Within the Greens, there is significant doubt expressed about whether the party's rural affairs agenda is developed enough.

Down the line, if the Greens got its policies right, there is actually a market there.

Show suckler or sheep farmers how to make money from the land and they will evolve.

The link between climate change and agriculture shouldn't be ignored, - rather it should be embraced, with solutions and incentives provided.

The abolition of quotas has resulted in a greater degree of intensification in dairy without an accompanying way of mitigating against the pressure on the land.

At a larger level, the smart farmers will be looking at the CAP and ensuring the cuts are limited without onerous conditions attached.

Brexit means the overall EU budget will go down significantly, by around 10pc.

Where EU agriculture policy goes as a result is an open question.

What's unusual about this general election is that social policies dominate. But the worries about the health service and the lack of supply of housing and costs of rent are as much an issue in Blanchardstown as in Borrisoleigh.

The growing pains of a country struggling to keep up with the rising population is causing a shortage of school places which is cropping up all over the country, an issue in Swords but also in Mullinavat.

The inability to get to grips with insurance premiums on business, house and health and compo culture is hitting rural areas hard.

The pension age is also coming up in a different way in rural areas, as there are fewer white-collar jobs, compared to urban areas, and less movement in the labour market.

The recruitment of staff and finding labourers is getting more difficult everywhere.

This also applies to childcare, where creches are few and far between in rural areas, compared to towns and cities.

Rural crime quite rightly remains on farmers' mindsets, but urban residents feel the same.

An increase in Garda numbers isn't just a village question or a city question.

When it comes to agriculture, farmers feel the urban population doesn't get their cause.

However, farming doesn't help itself at times. The Beef Plan Movement's protests in Dublin have done little to help the cause of farming in urban Ireland. The IFA has missed a step here by allowing that movement to build to a point where it claimed to be the voice of farmers.

To the average worker in the commuter belt of Dublin, they see little difference between the groups.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed's constituency of Cork North-West shows how there are some areas where the general election trends don't really get a look in.

Once again, it's a straight shoot-out between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Sinn Féin has no candidate at all in the field, the Green Party isn't at the races and there's no serious Independent making a play, so far.

The wide options available to voters in Booterstown are not there in Buttevant.

In a constituency that stretches from the commuter belt of Cork city into mountainy country out west and the edge of the Golden Vale up north, the hinterland covers the Kerry Group in Charleville, the Carbery Group in Ballineen and Dairygold in Mallow.

It's most definitely farming country, but it's land mixed with dairy, beef, sheep and tillage.

It's a microcosm of farming in Ireland, but it's politically only the Civil War parties.

Right now, Fianna Fáil are on top there, but Fine Gael will battle hard to switch the balance.

No wonder Mr Creed's outlook on the world is quite narrow.

The general election campaign encapsulates the problem with farming.

A debate on an issue of national importance affecting everyone and impacting on daily lives, is being carried out only amid the sector itself.

The fear of upsetting anyone within the vested interest is leading to a lack of imagination. The absence of vision is causing the long-term damage.

What's required is a forward-thinking leader who can advocate and critique for farmer and consumer alike.

A Minister for Agriculture with the capacity to lift the head up out of the furrow and take in the entire landscape would be a revelation.

Who's promising what in battle for the farming vote

Ciaran Moran outlines the five main parties' key agriculture policies as candidates chase the rural vote ahead of Saturday's polling day

Fine Gael

Build a coalition of like-minded countries on CAP negotiations

Fair distribution of direct payments to active farmers

Protect agriculture with a hard Brexit farm package, if required, and a market diversification plan

Establish a regulator to police unfair trading practices in the agricultural and food supply chain

Increase the payment per ewe under the Sheep Welfare Scheme from €10 to €15

Plant 22 million trees each year

Fianna Fail

Establish a National Food Ombudsman

Ensure a suckler cow payment of €200 per head

Increase resources to the market access unit

Increase Areas of Natural Constraints and biodiversity payments

Expand Farm Assist

Support the CAP convergence process

Abolish the levy farmers pay to Bord Bia

Sinn Féin

Establish a commission on the future of the family farm

Enhanced suckler cow payments

Root-and-branch review of the processing sector

Rebalance CAP payments towards lower-income family farms

Higher ewe payments and ANC payments for sheep farmers

Green Party

Phase out live exports

Shift focus of dairy and meat sector towards quality over scale

Increased supports for organic farming across all sectors

Shift funding from Pillar 1 (direct payments) to Pillar 2

Scrap the green/marked diesel regime in favour of a tax rebate payable to farmers

A ban on badger culling

Potential overhaul of the nitrates' derogation


Fairer distribution of supports for small and disadvantaged farmers

Increased environmental incentives

The launch of a Farm Income Diversification Scheme to help boost farm family incomes

Re-introduction of the Early Retirement Scheme

Extending TAMS II beyond 2020

Indo Farming