Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Mindless rush for expansion threatens us all

Gerald Potterton

THE traditional family farm is under threat like never before due to a combination of agricultural policies from Brussels and low product prices.

I am thinking of people who have not felt the urge to expand their operations by taking on more land. People who were content to carry on, more or less as they always did, and were happy with their lot. Sensible fellows who never became caught up in the ridiculous spiral of more and more land and bigger machinery, with the associated bank borrowings that tend to accompany such activities.

We continually read of large farming operations that cover thousands of acres through share-farming and rental agreements, running 400hp tractors and 30ft combines and so on.

Elusive economies of scale demand far larger machines that claim to reduce costs over increased acres and so the merry-go-round spins on nonsensically.

One wonders, are there no limits to machine size? The 40ft combine is now available, partnered with a 28t chaser bin, while a couple of 18t Cats tear frantically at the stubbles. Machinery manufacturers love such operators as their desire for massive tackle is insatiable. We are led to believe that this is the way forward.

Farmers Weekly and other periodicals of the agricultural industry applaud the achievements of such farm businesses while ordinary, sound and equally hard working, smaller farmers are all but ignored.

Brussels must look on with delight and rub its hands in glee. For this seems to be exactly the direction it wants European agriculture to follow.

I realise there will be those who say this is all a bit rich coming from a sizeable enough tillage farmer. In an Irish context there was a time when I was perceived to be a large farmer. And, undoubtedly, some others will see me as someone who resents progress. However, I don't believe we should all farm with Ford 5000s or 16ft combines.

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I am merely someone who is unhappy about the direction in which we are heading, which seems to me to be a race to the bottom. Wheat is now worth less than sawdust, milk less than bottled water. We can be certain of one thing: increasingly extensive production will ensure that everybody in rural communities will be affected. As farmer footfall decreases, more and more local businesses will become silent.

I draw solace from reading about the more traditional farms in Classic Tractor. It makes a refreshing change to read about people who love their family farms and their machines and take such pride in their work. A pride that does not come from having the biggest or the best, but from faithful service from a particular machine .

These people, to my mind, are the absolute backbone of the agricultural community, in a way that the much larger farm business with its spreadsheets and five-year cash flow projections can never be.

Irish Independent