Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 March 2018

'Over-hyping' of food exports at odds with two-tier farm sector

Less than 20pc of cattle farms viable compared to 80pc of dairy enterprises

Marian Harkin
Marian Harkin
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

The Government has been warned the "over-hyping" of the future prospects of Irish farming does not live up to the realities for many farm families.

Independent MEP Marian Harkin (pictured) said the 85pc increase in food exports to €19bn under the new Food Wise 2025 blueprint for the agri-food sector must be questioned as the UN food price index drops to its lowest level in six years.

"The primary producer of today is sustained by the support of the Common Agricultural Policy and not by the market," the MEP said.

Her comments follow a report published by Teagasc highlighting that almost one in three farm households nationally, and half of all farms in the border region are economically vulnerable.

It found that 31pc of farms, or 24,000 families, were only sustained due to an off-farm income.

"We are increasingly moving to a two-tier farm sector where in 2014 over 80pc of dairy farm businesses were viable compared to less than one in five cattle farm businesses," said Dr Thia Hennessy, head of the Teagasc National Farm Survey.

It pinpointed that the economic viability of farms improved last year almost entirely due to last year's buoyant performance of the dairy sector.

Ms Harkin said the stark figures in the report contrasted sharply with the ambitious targets in the new 2025 blueprint.

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"The latest Government target owes more to political hyping of prospects than recognising the challenge of increased competition in international food markets," she said.

The ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch said there was little explanation as to how the new targets would be achieved. However, he said the targets obviously imply a "significant increase in lands" being devoted to dairying. "There is a sense out there I suppose that, in an ideal world, somehow unviable farms out there will be farmed by viable dairy enterprises. How that is going to happen is a matter of conjecture," he said.

Mr Punch said that in reality much of the land was owned by farmers who were not earning a living wage out of cattle, and to a lesser extent sheep. However, they may not have money to invest in dairying or may be farming unsuitable land.

"There is a disconnect there when you look at the national targets," he said.

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