Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Rocky days ahead for the beef and milk industries

Phil Hogan
Phil Hogan
John Downing

John Downing

Suddenly, not everything looks so utterly positive for the future of Irish milk and beef - one of the nation's few truly indigenous industries.

Nobody wants to sound an undue alarm, but there are signs of rocky times on the horizon for both our key farm sectors.

But let's also note that there are signs that the difficulties could come to a head just as Ireland moves into a general election campaign.

The ending of EU milk quotas raises the risk of a beef supply glut which could depress factory prices, and drive farmers back to where they were last year in their prolonged battle with meat processors.

An indicator of concerns here comes in a signal from Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan that he may not be too absolutist in ruling out future intervention buying.

In milk, where so many Irish farmers have invested so much for increased production, there are ominous signs regarding world prices.

World milk prices are close to the lows last seen during the major crash in 2009 and there are reports from the US of millions of litres being poured away.

We will have an election sometime between late November and April 9 of next year at very latest.

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A lot of energy is being expended on speculation about a more precise timing, a practise which is often engaging, and occasionally fun.

But the maximum span of 18 weeks between the earliest and latest polling date means little to the bigger picture.

Any politician worth his or her salt has been in election mode for some time now and a feature of that mode is that they must now listen to the people.

World markets

By the end of this year we will know more about the extent of world market problems in both beef and dairy.

We should also know more about the implications for the rural communities which are directly affected, and the broader sections of the population for whom this also has implications.

If alarm bells are not already sounding at Fine Gael headquarters, especially, they could well soon be heard loud and clear.

This party will be the first port of call for farmers seeking remedies.

Rural and farm communities are ignored for much of the time.

But politicians of all parties also know that turnout in rural areas is much better than in urban places and that farmers, their extended families, friends and neighbours can pack a political punch.

Come election time, as they go seeking votes, politicians must listen.

It is the job of farm representative organisations and their leaders to maximise their political leverage at this crucial time for rural communities across Ireland.

Indo Farming