After spending many years in the wilderness, it appears that farming is right back in fashion. So much so, it seemed that every time I turned on the radio over the holiday period, a panel of 'experts' was telling us how important a role farming would play in our economic recovery.
It is, of course, great that we are at last being shown a little respect and appreciation for our hard work. However, I find it deeply ironic that a sector, which has had its incomes continually undermined and eroded by EU global economic policy, while the rest of Ireland enjoyed the frenzied excess of the boom, is now being targeted as a solution for Ireland's economic woes. And what are farmers to get from it? Apparently more cuts in the upcoming CAP reforms.
Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt whatsoever that farmers will do everything they can to ensure economic recovery but words are cheap and it would be nice if this new-found appreciation of farmers was reflected in improved income figures in next year's Teagasc National Farm Survey.
Meanwhile, life on the farm goes on. Just as we had given up all hope, the much-heralded rise in the price of beef eventually arrived. It may have come too late to make much difference to people who finish their cattle off grass but it did give a very welcome price boost to my last load of my cattle which I was finishing on barley. It should also serve as a timely warning of how fraught with difficulties forecasting the cattle trade is.
On a personal note, I am very much looking forward to this year. My store cattle appear to be looking much better than this time last year, and now that the severe frost and snows have melted away, cattle silage intake has returned to normal. My decision to take a late cut of silage to supplement my main cut has also ensured some welcomed wriggle room in relation to spring turnout dates. Memories of last year's late spring still remain fresh in the mind.
Another issue that is causing serious concern to farmers at the moment is the dramatic increase in the price of diesel. Unlike our city cousins who have direct access to public transport, farmers need diesel, not alone for driving farm machinery but also for simply getting from A to B. It appears, however, that there may be some good news on the horizon.
Recent reports of new developments in the extraction of shale gas in the US have caused much excitement in the energy sector and have already resulted in a dramatic drop in the price of natural gas globally. From a farming perspective this is positive news as gas is a major contributor in the production cost of fertilisers and any decrease in costs is to be welcomed.
In time, cheaper gas should also have an impact on the price of oil as more and more switch over to gas-fired heating and production systems.
John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary