Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Unwelcome return of 'farmer bashing'

There is only one thing on the minds of our political and economic commentators at the moment -- growth- or indeed the lack of it, at both a global and national level.

No matter what business you're in, growth is of the utmost importance and no one knows this better than farmers. Will we ever forget the cold harsh weather of the past few years, when grass growth virtually came to a standstill?

What a relief it was to witness the recent sudden rise in temperatures and a return to business as usual as far as grass supply is concerned.

This year, acting on the advice of a friend of mine who helps buy my cattle, I decided to stock a better type of Friesian store. So far it seems to be paying off and, even allowing for the harsh spell in April, my cattle appear to be doing well.

Of course the poor growth in April and early May has slowed down the thrive, but the question is, will the plentiful supply of early grass compensate for the loss of thrive during the "bare" period and what will the effect of the current burst of growth be? We won't know the real answer to questions until we start slaughtering cattle later in the autumn, but that's what keeps this business interesting.

The harsh weather also affected growth in my silage ground and it looks as if it will be early June before I get my first cut complete.

The growth in farm income, as shown in the recently published Teagasc National Farm Survey 2011 Estimates, is long overdue and most welcome.

There is, however, one unwelcome aspect to any rise in farm incomes and that is the inevitable resentment it causes in some circles.

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Unfortunately we are already seeing evidence of some commentators trying to rekindle the age-old Irish tradition of farmer bashing.

Despite the general improvement in farm incomes, it is disturbing to see the poor results for incomes in the cattle sector persisting and in particular, in cattle rearing.

This is most disappointing, considering the huge emphasis that has been placed on improving the breeding herd over the past few years.

The sad reality is that, in spite of the dramatic increase in cattle prices, the average cattle farmer is still selling his/her cattle for less what it costs to produce them.

This makes the negative reports emanating from Brussels in relation to the current CAP reform negotiations very worrying indeed.

It would appear that EU funds, which started out originally as beef market supports and were then transformed in the McSharry Reforms into direct payments to farmers in the form of special beef premia, and subsequently to decoupled single farm payments, are now to be distributed in what can be best described as an arbitrary Santa Claus operation.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that these beef supports will soon be dispersed to anyone owning a bit of land irrespective of their enterprise. This will devastate the low-income cattle sectors, as highlighted in the Teagasc survey.

It is most unfortunate that a lot of people, including many of our farming representatives, appear to have forgotten that these payments were originally designed to help the high export value but low income beef sector survive. Returning to recent concerns about lack of growth in the global economy, I have yet to hear any of our so-called experts explain how a global economic and social system that has evolved over the past 80 years using a constant supply of cheap oil as its main driver, can continue to grow with oil now costing well over $100 a barrel?

What is really worrying is that that none of these experts appears to know the answer. For all our sakes, I hope that a solution can be found.

The consequences of a collapse, partial or otherwise of the global economic system without a viable alternative to replace it would make our current national problems appear utterly insignificant.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming