Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

Macra speakers pull no punches

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

It is refreshing to report on a conference where you get a bit of cut and thrust from a panel of speakers.

Too often a false respect for position and an equally false politeness combine to stifle any meaningful debate.

This was certainly not the case at Macra na Feirme's national conference which took place in Carlow last Saturday.

That's not to say that the panel tore strips out of one another – they didn't do that – but there was a lively exchange of ideas and opinions which attracted some thoughtful comments and views from the floor.

Indeed, the tone for the conference was set at the very start by Ulster Bank's Ann-Marie Butler who told of a meeting she had with a pig farmer a few months ago.

The man had applied for a loan to upgrade his pig housing facilities and asked Ms Butler what the full amount would set him back in annual payments.

The bank official gave him the figure, which she put at around €100,000. However, she admitted to being taken aback by what the farmer did next; he immediately converted it into c/kg based on the unit's throughput and could then immediately work out whether the loan would be a runner or not.


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The conference appeared to take its lead from this and progressed in a very matter-of-fact manner, with few punches being pulled.

Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness told the audience that she was tired of the over-emphasis on the cheque in the post.

She warned that growing budgetary pressures within the EU meant Irish farmers could not count on the same level of financial support from the CAP as they enjoyed in the past.

As with all Macra conferences, land mobility and the age profile of farmers was invariably close to the top of the agenda.

However, there was little in the way of good news on this issue from UCD agricultural economist Alan Renwick.

He echoed the view expressed by fellow economist Alan Matthews that the 25pc top-up on payments to young farmers under the new CAP regime was essentially a waste of time because of the "wall of money" that was being delivered to farmers through the single farm payment.

Equally thought-provoking was the contribution of Cork farm consultant Mike Brady.

He predicted that sheep, beef and tillage would become niche operations compared to dairying given the level of returns that each enterprise could realistically deliver – €700/ac in dairy, compared to €200/ac at best in the others.

He also suggested that dairy farmer numbers would fall from 18,000 to 9,000 over the next decade.

This view wasn't universally popular but it certainly generated plenty of comment from the young farmers present.

Irish Independent