'We've got your back,' Leo told farmers - but Budget shows that's a load of bull

Farmers’ friend: Leo Varadkar claimed to support farmers but the Budget needed a here-and-now response to the Brexit threat. Photo: Pat Moore
Farmers’ friend: Leo Varadkar claimed to support farmers but the Budget needed a here-and-now response to the Brexit threat. Photo: Pat Moore
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Earlier this year, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told farmers the Government had the back of the farming sector.

"Our farmers, fishermen and agri-food industry are at the forefront of my mind and the minds of all in this Government, because they and the rural economies associated with them are most likely to be adversely affected by Brexit," he told the Dáil in January.

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Roll on to yesterday's Budget and many in the sector will be questioning this declaration of support.

There's no doubt that farmers will be disappointed by Budget 2020, and primarily for what it didn't deliver.

This Budget comes at a time that is probably the most difficult period farming has been through and is facing.

And the biggest point about the Budget for farmers is the 'wait and see' approach the Government is taking towards the sector and Brexit.

As the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) said, in a normal year, that Budget would be underwhelming, but where we are now - 22 days from the Brexit cliff - its lack of urgency and detail will be profoundly shocking.

Brexit may still be in the future but for the agri-food sector it has been a reality for many months. The impact of uncertainty surrounding Brexit has had a direct hit on demand from UK buyers across the board - from food to machinery.

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And that uncertainty in the UK has had an impact on the primary producer more than anyone else. Farmers remain price-takers and any negative rumblings in the market are passed down the line to them.

Remember, beef farmers spent weeks protesting this year as beef prices tumbled, and yet they were presented with a 'wait and see' Budget for farming. That approach won't help farmers who have felt the cold winds of Brexit for months.

It's the here and now farmers are dealing with in their day-to-day lives, and this Budget has not delivered a here-and-now response.

The Budget may present some strong promises in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but as Brexit continues to drag its heels, farmers could be waiting months, or years perhaps, for any clarity. Many won't survive months, never mind years, as beef prices remain stuck below the actual cost of production, and it will take more than promises to support this sector or provide alternative options.

Dairy farming, too - traditionally the most viable sector - has seen prices fall this year, as Brexit threatens to shut down our main export market for cheddar cheese and, in the past few days, a Trump tax on butter that could severely affect Kerrygold sales in the US.

Huge opportunities could exist for the sector if it is helped to diversify into a supplier of green energy, but that vision is lacking from our leaders.

Farming is still the backbone of rural communities in Ireland, and investment in its future is necessary for those communities to survive.

The Government was worried about how rural Ireland and the farming community, a traditionally staunch Fine Gael voting bloc, would react to this Budget. They'll find out when they go to the polls next, but should not be expecting many farmers to have their back after Budget 2020.

Maybe they don't care any more about the farmer vote?

Irish Independent


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