There seems to be a determined effort to destroy farm sector

Oliver McDonnell

It looks like the tillage sector heading for disaster again this year and certainly anyone with any sense will be weighing up their options this spring. In fact, I would go so far as to say that with a projected price of €85/t for barley, the normal sowing of spring crops is probably in jeopardy.

Producing a tillage crop at this price is simply not possible and it is the efficient full-time farmer totally dependent on his farm who continues to be the major loser.

Growing crops has presented a challenge during the past few years, but price projections, such as those being talked about at the moment, have pushed grain growers to the edge. With returns of €85-95/t for grain now forecast, farmers will need to look at input costs. Crazy prices are being paid for rented land, and the cost of fertiliser, sprays, fuel and seed bear no relation whatsoever to the price offered for the final product.

There is only one direction tillage enterprises are going this year and that is down. The financial losses to the farmer will be catastrophic. Escalating costs and falling returns spell disaster for income potential. There is something very rotten in the whole scenario.

Our cattle enterprises are in a similar position, but then this has been an ongoing gripe of mine. Here we have an industry that is second to none. We produce some of the best quality cattle in the world and, in so doing, are the primary producers for an industry which contributes considerably to GNP -- but we receive none of the rewards.

Instead, our cattle are graded more severely than in any other country in the EU, which I didn't know until I read last week's Farming Independent, and we receive the worst prices. Too many of us have been producing cattle at break even or at a financial loss for too many years. It is time to do some soul searching and to decide if we really wish to supply an industry which doesn't give a damn. Everyone else on the production/processing chain earns a healthy living from our cattle except us -- and we work the hardest.

But back to grain growing, where the costs of a tillage enterprise only start with the actual growing costs. The capital costs involved are astronomical, including all the necessary machinery, and maintenance. Replacing parts also carries a considerable financial burden. The price of some of these parts is too ridiculous for words. Fuel and fertiliser prices are creeping up again, too.

The irony of the whole situation is that industry, in general, complains continually about their increasing costs and they then set about imposing these on us. We, however, are expected to survive on air. Our increased costs do not appear to be worthy of any consideration.

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I've said it before and I say it again -- there seems to be a determined effort from some quarters to destroy farming in this country, despite the fact that the sector is a major contributor in terms of spin-off jobs and improving our GNP.

If the demise of farming is to be prevented, then representatives of all interested parties must urgently sit down and work out a viable and fair solution. The livelihoods of full-time farmers and the production of quality food for use on both the domestic and export markets must become a priority, before it is too late.

This applies to dairying, tillage and cattle finishing. Dairy farmers have been at rock bottom for too long now. The enterprise involves long and arduous work and forward planning, and the abuse at primary production level will not be tolerated for much longer.

On most pages of the farming press we are urged to protect our Single Farm Payment (SFP). I'm afraid I do not know any farmer, including myself, who has been able to do so, during the past two years in particular. Because of the dreadful and insulting prices being paid for product across the board, most farmers have been utterly dependent on their SFP just to survive.

And that brings me to another point. To move the basis of payment of the SFP to a flat-rate system is nothing short of ludicrous, especially for full-time farmers. Nobody, except some of the so-called geniuses in Brussels, could possibly consider a scheme which takes money from hard-pressed, full-time farmers and transfers it to those who, in most cases, have an alternate source of income.

But this is an argument for another time and no doubt there will be much controversy over the coming months on the subject. As farmers, we are all entitled to a fair price for product, one which will give us a reasonable income. This constant attack on prices by our co-ops and by the supermarkets is nothing short of immoral.

One final point. Last week I referred to the low prices I received for cows sold and attributed this to the new price grid. I accept the cows were not sold under the grid but I contend that the new payment system has added to the current uncertainty in the beef trade and this has hit prices across the board. The grid is a positive initiative but it must deliver for farmers.

Irish Independent

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