Irish family farm faces uphill battle
Amidst the turmoil of a fluctuating native economy and uncertain international marketplace, the Irish family farm finds itself facing an uphill battle more pronounced than any in recent memory. This is exacerbated by continuously high levels of emigration, decimating rural communities across the country, as farms struggle to make a profitable return on their produce.
All of these are challenges that farming organisations in Ireland must now contend with, among them the Irish Cattle & Sheep Association, led by Paddy Kent (pictured), who farms just outside New Ross.
He was elected as president of the organisation for a two-year term in December, and is under no illusion over the task ahead that lies, with the costs of farming continuing to climb.
'A trend that's been happening in the last number of years is that all the inputs in farming have gone up in price – feed, fuel, fertiliser – but there hasn't been a corresponding increase in the price of food,' he says of the issues facing farmers in modern Ireland. 'So the farmer's proportion of that has declined also.'
This has not been helped by the gravitation of the consumer towards lower-cost alternatives over the last number of years, to the detriment of their own health as well as the farmer's wallet.
'People are buying more junk food; it's probably our biggest competitor,' Paddy claims. 'And as a result, human health has deteriorated also; there are epidemics of everything from obesity to early onset dementia.
'We're not actually better off as a people; we're taking short cuts in our diet and have gone away from the meat and two veg as a staple.'
Paddy fears that this continued loss of farming income could lead to a breakdown in the rural way of life as struggling farms find it increasingly difficult to remain in operation. This is made all the worse by emigration, which has hit rural areas particularly hard.
'There's a breakdown in rural communities,' Paddy laments. 'The kids are in Australia, and won't come back because it (the farm) is not sustainable.'
To counteract this, Paddy remains adamant that securing EU funding is vital for the long-term future of the family farm in Ireland, and insists the ICSA will continue to strive towards this end under his leadership.
'We're depending now on EU subsidies and the government to support schemes like Rural Development Schemes. It's imperative for rural society and the type and scale of farming in Ireland that these schemes are in place,' he insists.
And although the challenges are great, he insists that the opportunities remain strong, with Ireland's green image providing a crucible against which to build a premium, nationwide brand that could grow to command a sizable market share abroad.
'As a country, we're very clean, green and unpolluted in comparison to other European countries,' he enthuses.
'We should play to that advantage and market our food more affectively as such, particularly the beef and lamb. They should be sold as very premium products. That's really where we've got to aim.
While the next two years will present many difficulties to be overcome, Paddy insists he is looking forward to his term as president, and concludes by promising to do his best to improve the lot of cattle and sheep farmers nationwide.
'I'm delighted to take the position. It's a responsible position that I've been selected for on a two year term, and I'm going to give it my best shot. I'm looking forward to the challenge.'
New Ross Standard