Helen Harris: Tillage farmers can no longer accept double standards on grain imports
What is the point in traceability in tillage farming? Why do we have a grain assurance scheme? Why is the Department of Agriculture looking for every fertiliser and pesticide we use to be documented and quantified? Why do we have inspections?
The reason I am asking these questions is because millions of tonnes of foreign grain and maize come into this country every year without any traceability and no-one seems to ask why.
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I presume if someone from the Department was standing in front of me, they would argue that our agri-food sector's reputation is built on the 'farm to fork' concept and that all food and drink manufacturers are demanding a fully traceable process.
As a consumer I completely agree with this principle.
Everyone should know where their food and drink is produced and how.
But I take serious issue when I see poor labelling on food products that doesn't make clear where the food has originated from.
So, I go back to my original question: what is the point of Irish tillage farmers fully complying with all the rules and regulations only for their efforts be completely undermined by imports with no such traceability?
Many sheds are still full from last year's harvest and we will have a carry-over of supply into this year's harvest.
If we don't need or value our home-grown, high-quality and fully traceable grain, why not just import everything we need?
Should we not be concerned about where it came from or how it was grown, what chemicals it received or what foreign weeds might accompany it to our shores?
For companies that are selling the green image of Ireland abroad, does it matter that the cow on the label is eating GM maize?
If we want to give the impression that everything is documented and we have this 'farm to fork' traceability, then why have the double standards?
If it doesn't make any difference and nobody cares what standard grain is grown to, then let us do the same.
Make it a level playing field.
Before I get angry emails from people saying they don't want Ireland growing GM crops, I will ask again why?
If it's good enough to import and use, why is it not good enough for us to grow?
If foreign farmers can grow to a lower and cheaper standard, let us do the same.
If it's okay for them to take out all the hedges and grow Round-Up ready crops, let us do the same.
If the EU and our government want us to take on extra environmental responsibilities, then why not ask the same of what's being imported?
Farm to fork
If consumers are looking for the reassurance that our farming system is truly is 'farm to fork', why are we accepting lower-grade feed for our animals?
I consider our Irish grain to be exceptionally good quality, and the fact that it is grown to such high standards should make us both proud and valued.
But the agri-food producers that sell their products on the basis of our high standards in agriculture clearly don't value tillage farmers if they are prepared to turn a blind eye to the use of lower-quality foreign grain in animal feed.
If it was a year of high prices it might be forgiveable, but the price is on the floor and has been for the last few years.
I understand that we don't produce enough grain to supply the needs of our feed sector and we will always need a certain amount of imports.
But I don't understand on a year like this why there are farmers around the country with grain in their sheds, as trucks drive past them, on their way to the ports to pick up imported grain and GM maize.
Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Twitter: @kildarefarmer
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