State authorities have “turned their back” on the sector for years to import environmentally damaging grain and pulses, Whyte Bros Farm warns
State body attitudes toward Ireland’s reliance on feed imports from third countries “will not be tolerated anymore by grain growers”, one of the country’s largest tillage farmers has warned.
Around 3.5m tonnes of feed ingredients — from up to 60 countries — are shipped to Irish ports annually to be milled and compounded into feed rations for Ireland’s livestock, pig and poultry production systems. A further 1.5m tonnes are supplied by home-grown cereals.
However, for Ollie Whyte, who along with his six brothers and seven of their sons farms 3,300ac of land in the Naul, Co Dublin where they grow cereals and fatten cattle, this cannot continue.
Having been in farming for 54 years — Whyte Brothers Farm was established in 1942 — and with 14 families now involved in the business, Mr Whyte (70) says he has grown tired of the “unlevel playing field” at the core of Irish agri-food production.
He told Farming Independent: “Irish tillage growers don’t have the option of growing unregulated genetically modified maize, soya and palm kernel, so it suits millers and compounders to rely on imports because they are cheap. It drives sales and its good for business.
“They can buy and use vast quantities of feed produce that is banned by legislation and EU regulation for Irish growers — and this is the primary cause for the decline in tillage in Ireland.”
Mr Whyte contends that industry players “don’t have to worry” about the carbon footprint of the produce they use, or the contribution of “environmentally destructive imports” to climate change.
“South American maize produces 27 times more CO2 per hectare than native Irish grain,” said Mr Whyte, a stakeholder representative on the recently published Teagasc Crops 2030 report, which highlighted this fact.
“Such regions use active ingredients in plant protection that have been banned by EU food safety scientists on consumer health issues and some on environmental concerns.
“On top of that, rainforests the size of Munster are being knocked every year in Brazil and Argentina to clear land for crop and cattle production.
“And all the while Irish tillage growers are producing the safest and highest-quality grain and pulses under EU regulation of any country inside or outside EU,” he said.
Department of Agriculture (DAFM) import data shows that in 2019 Ireland imported 350,427t of maize from Brazil, 469,912t from Ukraine and 417,602t from Canada.
When the tillage sector tries to shine a spotlight on this issue, Mr Whyte says their views are “sidelined”.
“All in authority are allowing this dangerous produce into the food-chain and, worse still, they don’t insist on the food label stating its inclusion at sale point for consumers,” he said.
“The tillage sector has been slowly strangled for years by authorities turning their back on it. It has been stated that 230,000ha of tillage land has been lost to other sectors since 1980 — that should ring alarm bells for all involved in agriculture.”
“Bord Bia and DAFM have dismissed this issue as not worthy of a proper answer. How can our state bodies confidently declare that we operate a grass-fed system?
“If Bord Bia or DAFM found banned chemicals on Irish farms they would come down severely on growers with fines, and possibly condemning the produce. Yet it’s okay for Brazilian producers to lorry it in.
“It is unforgivable and is contrary to the Origin Green Charter and Government, DAFM, Bord Bia, IFA, ICMSA, Teagasc and EU stated aims on climate change, sustainability and environmental protection.
“Is it okay for Irish tillage growers to be the sacrificial lamb to make it all work? This attitude can’t be tolerated anymore by grain growers.
“We need to create a green label for food produced from full Irish ingredients and let consumers make an informed choice.”