Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Friday 17 August 2018

Opinion: Politicians must tackle the flaws in high risk farm expansion policies

Expansion is no antidote to inefficiency: the gross margins on our dairy farms can range from €960 to €1485 per cow
Expansion is no antidote to inefficiency: the gross margins on our dairy farms can range from €960 to €1485 per cow
John Heney's cattled pictured last week enjoying their first taste of fresh grass since mid June

John Heney

We are certainly not out of the woods yet with the weather and suggestions that all the various farming sectors should now endeavour to help one another are to be commended. However, my first task is to sort out my own farm enterprise and get it back up and running again.

I remember an old Jesuit teacher once telling me that I should never allow myself to become a victim of circumstance, so my main focus at the moment is to get a second cut of silage in before the end of summer and hopefully I will then have enough feed for my cattle next winter.

There have been some strange reactions to the current crisis. One that I found particularly unusual was a recent suggestion that farmers who wisely choose not to indulge in dubious high-input systems should have their CAP Basic Payment reduced and the monies redirected to subsidise apparently unsuccessful intensive production systems.

This to me appear to be similar to suggesting that in the well known Bible story of the 10 maidens who were invited to a wedding feast, it was the five wise maidens who took precautions in case their lamps ran out of oil lamps who should have been punished.

Hopefully our politicians and policymakers realise that they too should have been far more aware of the extreme difficulties which could arise from their enthusiastically promoted high-risk farm expansion policies. They must now make an in-depth examination of the serious flaws which this year's weather has exposed in these policies.

Back to my farm and as I have already said my first task is to assess how things currently stand and plan for the rest of the year.

My cattle appear to very content and doing surprisingly well, however after such a disastrous spring and summer I remain very concerned about how things will eventually work out.

Fortunately, I have managed to conserve a good deal of aftergrass which although it doesn't look that great, will help to get things back on track in the short to medium term.

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While the field which got slurry after taking my first-cut of silage looks best, on closer inspection the slurry can still be seen on the ground. This is something which I will obviously have to watch very closely over the next few weeks.

In relation to water supply, my local 'Galtee' water scheme held up well except for a temporary disruption caused by a major break about a mile from me. I am very grateful to the local council crew who quickly repaired the break and restored the supply in just a few hours.

I have sometimes mentioned the pond in the 'high field' and even though it is situated in a very elevated part of my farm, amazingly it never went dry this summer. This was a huge consolation to me because if the worst came to the worst I had my own Plan B in the form of the pond to fall back on.

The pond actually has quite a historical background. Some friends of mine who have an interest in local history called to have a look at it recently. They were able to tell me more about the local landlord James Scully who met his death there while shooting duck on a dark November evening in the 1840's

Legend

Local legend has it that it was his brother who shot him apparently for inheritance reasons but my friends were of the view that historical records indicate that it was probably some disgruntled tenants who were responsible for his murder. No one was ever charged for the killing.

This is not the only historical point of interest surrounding the pond, as close by lies a complex array of earthen mounds including a well preserved ring fort which dates from around 500-600AD.

What is even more interesting is the presence of some Bronze Age earthenworks which indicate that people have lived in the vicinity of the pond for thousands of years.

Obviously water was just as important to people who lived in the Bronze Age as it is now.

It also makes me realise how brief and insignificant is our stay in this world and how great is our responsibility to hand on our world and it's environment in an intact and undamaged condition to future generations.

Unfortunately, this is something which our current capitalist system is abmisibally failing to do. In it's insatiable drive for exponential growth it chooses to ignore the finite nature of Earth's natural resources on which our current economic model is totally dependent.

John Heney farms in Kilfeackle, Co Tipperary

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