Fruits of the land must be shared equally, says President
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has called for the rewards of farming to be spread out among large and small farmers.
He said farming has a great future if handled right, and is a "cornerstone of Ireland's society, economy and identity" supporting 300,000 jobs in the agrifood sector.
Irish food exports grew by 42pc in the last few years, helping create 4,000 new jobs at a time of general economic contraction. With global demand for food forecast to rise 70pc by 2050 there was every reason to be optimistic.
"The upcoming abolition of milk quotas will also open new, stimulating opportunities for the Irish dairy sector," he said.
But the President urged that the fruits of agricultural development be shared around "and not just divided among the biggest".
"I believe that it is equally important to build up Irish agriculture's capacity to expand into new markets globally, as it is to foster a thriving family farming sector, allowing as many who wish so as possible to make a living out of farming," he said
Speaking at the opening of the Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois President Higgins said it was undeniably "the most beloved rendezvous in Ireland's rural calendar". The National Geographic even singled it out as one of the top 10 events to visit in Ireland, he noted.
A crowd of 82,000 attended on the opening day of the event, on a par with last year's record attendance.
But President Higgins said he is "very upset" at new findings that more than half of farmers were affected by suicide in their family or community.
He said he "could not but be concerned" at the survey findings.
"The suicide rate for example, where one in five of those between 35 and 44 had a near, immediate experience in their families or in their extended families. Or that over half of farming families are some way or other affected by the impact of suicide," he said.
President Higgins said it was important to reduce farmers' vulnerability to external shocks such as price volatility.
The survey in question was carried out by the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and the Irish Examiner.
National Ploughing Association managing director Anna May McHugh said there was a marvellous atmosphere .
"There is a very positive feeling out there, we don't have figures from the trade stands but it looks like people are buying," she said.
Rain early in the day had been welcomed by the ploughing competitors who "would probably like a bit more of it" because ground conditions were so firm after weeks of dry conditions, she said.
The crowds began thronging into the event before 8am resulting in heavy traffic on the roads around the 800-acre site in Ratheniska, Co Laois.
The sheer volume of traffic meant some delays getting in on site, as everyone tried to arrive between 7am and 9am, said Garda Chief Superintendent John Scanlan. "I'd advise people to take their time getting here, because the problem is everyone thinks they'll get there early, when in fact it usually eases off later," he said.
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