Farming is an endangered industry in the Model County where farmers are working for less money in more dangerous, demanding conditions, David Looby reports from a crisis meeting
A meeting on the crisis in farming in County Wexford and nationally on Thursday night heard that local farmers are facing huge financial pressures after the fodder crisis in an industry which has a stark future.
Organised by local Fianna Fáil members, the meeting had four main speakers, County Livestock chairman JJ Kavanagh, IFA grain committee chairman Mark Browne, IFA county chairman James Kehoe and Paddy Kent of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmer's Association.
Mr Kavanagh said: 'I think - after the fodder crisis - there will be bills out there that won't be paid for some time. Teagasc will have to have a re-look at the situation.'
Mr Kavanagh said in line with the New Zealand farming model live stock should go out in February and not May, as happened this year due to the terrible weather.
'My grandfather had a saying "old hay is old gold" and he was right. Whether our winters are going to change I don't know, but they are due to get wetter.'
He described Agriculture Minister Michael Creed as being particularly weak when the fodder crisis struck and said CAP has been cut twice from what it was set 20 years ago.
'All the bureaucrats and ministers, I'm sure their wages aren't what they were 20 years ago. If you take out the dairy figures out of farming most people are solely dependent on the Single Farm Payment to make their ends meet and that is no position to be in.'
Mr Kavanagh said cattle are netting much the same prices as they did 20 or 30 years ago 'if you do the currency exchanges'.
'Our buying power has left us. Now Commissioner Hogan is going to set farmer against farmer. He is taking about giving 2 per cent for young farmers. He is just taking money from one and giving it to another and once we are fighting he will get his policies through. We need an increase in the budget.'
He said a 10 per cent cut across all Single Farm Payments is on the horizon to fund supports for suckler farmers. 'I'm a suckler farmer and I don't want it.'
He said prices for livestock have risen. 'They seem to be able to pay when cattle are scarce. Lamb was at €7.10, it has fallen to €5,80 and yet the housewife pays the same. Someone is making big money. The biggest winners are the Glanbias, the machinery dealers, the co-ops and the merchants. They have taken every single of our Single Farm Payment and you have three kings of the cattle industry who are buying out the whole place.'
He expressed disappointment that farmers aren't protesting more about the conditions they are enduring. 'We really need a rebellion to tell the bureaucrats exactly what is happening in rural Ireland. The elephant in the room is farm succession.'
Mr Kavanagh said in his area there is only one farmer in a five mile radius going to take over. In ten to 15 years we will have serious difficulty getting people to take over.'
He said there is not enough of a living in it for a father and son to farm unless there is a substantial farm.
Mark Browne, who hails from County Wexford, said: 'I am doing my best to represent grain growers here in a difficult time. It has been a very difficult five years. This year we are about six weeks behind and that could have a yield potential for us as the year goes on.
'We need a strong tillage industry in Wexford where we have high quality grain. We feel some of they grain being imported is of a very low quality. Irish grain is more traceable and is grown locally.'
He said if there was no CAP budget there would be no grain grown at all. 'This year is the first year that grain has started to rise a little bit which is good news.'
He said Russia is operating on a different playing field to Irish farmers as their farmers don't have to contend with as strict environmental conditions.
'Ireland produces 2m tonnes every year. Russia has produced an extra 10m tonnes every year for the last four years.'
He said: 'Some EU policies make the environment worse, like sewing different crops in different places; using more diesel. To do more we have to be paid a little bit more.
'We are very concerned that they are talking about at least a 4 per cent cut in the budget as we are getting the very same money as what we got 20 years ago. Fertiliser prices haven't risen a lot in four years but fertiliser has gone up four times.'
James Kehoe said he took on the chairman role as farm incomes are so low.
He said Brexit, trade deals and CAP changes will mean huge challenges for farmers. 'For three quarters of farmers, almost the total payment is made up of Farm Income Support. Costs are going up. I at home am running faster to stand still. It's unsustainable. I'm a sheep and suckler farmer and this year has been one of the toughest years in my farm ever. In the sector I am involved in there is no great volatility, it's fairly low all the time.
'We are in the EU and we are very happy in the EU, but because of that we are in a cheap food policy. Although people say we are in a great position with the climate and environment that we are in we should have the ability to compete in the world market, but unfortunately we are so heavily restricted by different factors it has an impact on the cost of production so there is a real crisis. Until you get paid for the produce that you produce it will be impossible to get young people involved in farming.'
Mr Kehoe said he does not want food prices to go up in the supermarkets, adding 'but we are in a position where our beef, dairy, pig, sheep, and grain are all controlled by a few individuals.'
He said farmers need to stick together and have a voice.
'There is so much doom and gloom after the tough spring. Farmers need to come out and speak.'
He said the fodder crisis will be felt for a few years to come.
'There was an opportunity to bring out some low cost loans and that didn't happen. I have people ringing me up and they are over their overdraft and they have no money to feed their cattle.'
Paddy Kent said there has been an underlying crisis built up over a number of years as Teagasc has asked farmers to produce more for less.
'Our main exports are high grade foods, but they are not being marketed as such. We have Bord Bia selling for Larry Goodman. He should be paying them, not us.'
Mr Kent said farmers are three times more likely to suffer from a heart disease, adding that they are being paid a pittance for their grain and top quality produce.
'A crop of barley is worth about €200,000 for whiskey, €140,000 for beer. The farmer doesn't get €50 out of it. Some organic farmers can get €1,000 a tonne. Alternative models of dry stock farming need to be looked at.'
The huge costs for young farmers to start into farming are also prohibitive, he said.
Senator Pat Daly, who is party spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, said Brexit is the great unknown, adding that the mushroom industry has already been seriously affected. He said the new Wexford cheddar plant in Wexford could be seriously impacted as the UK is a major cheddar consumer.
'The minister sleepwalked into the fodder crisis. He let the shortage go to crisis. When we got to crisis stage his actions left a lot to be desired also.'
He said grain is being imported from Russia at great expense. 'The very fact that you would put grain on a train in the middle of Russia and bring it to the coast and put it on a ship, the diesel involved - that carbon footprint is doing more damage than good.
'If the malters were prepared to pay the farmers a proper price, farmers get 5c on a pint of Guinness. If 1c was put onto the cost of a pint 5c could work its way back to the farmer.
'It's worth €35 a tonne to the man growing the grain. He could almost be doubling his price. That is the best example of how money is being creamed off and made by anyone who touches, handles, processes, transports any farmer's product once it leaves the farm; they are all doing well out of it other than the farmer.'
Irish farmers are wrongly accused over the way the treat the environment, he added.
'Irish farmers are the custodians of the Irish countryside and the most efficient when it comes to co2 emissions, dairy farmers have the lowest in the world and our beef production is around fifth.'
He said €560m has been lost in trade with the UK due to the sterling fluctuation.
Deputy James Browne said he has already raised the need for compensation for fruit farmers in the county in the Dáil.
He said Wexford farmers produce fantastic produce, adding that consumers should be prepared to pay a premium for high quality goods, as shoppers abroad do.
Deputy Browne said there was no preparations put in place ahead of the fodder crisis.
Raising the issue of mental health, isolation and loneliness among farmers, Deputy Browne urged farmers to contact him with any farming issues they have so he can raise them in the Dáil. He said solar farms are hugely important, but the lack of guidelines is a major issue.
Wexford farmers endured serious mental health issues during the fodder crisis leading to at least two being hospitalised, Cllr Pip Breen told the meeting.
'I know some farmers who were up in St John of God psychiatric hospital after the winter we had,' Cllr Breen told the meeting.
'We are in a crisis. Our biggest problem is that there are four million people in the country and we produce enough for 35 million. With Brexit it is putting our products below cost. There is residual debt with co-ops, financial, institutions etc that will take years to clear. Minister Creed was totally asleep at the wheel during the crisis. He said if they had stock they should have been feeding them but farmers were under ferocious pressure.'
Cllr Breen said Wexford farmers helped farmers in the west and ended up short of fodder.
'We are producing the best food in the world and we are not getting paid for it,' he added.
Cllr Michael Sheehan said attracting young people into farming needs to be a priority. He said numerous solar farms are planned for the county, including a 500 acre farm in Clongeen. 'I am opposed to this as it turns land into nothing but a giant mirror.'
Cllr Michael Whelan said it was very important for the New Ross Ballyculane ceantar to hold a meeting on farming as it is an agricultural area.
He said EU policies are making it tougher to tillage farm. 'Farm succession is the major issue,' he added, saying: 'If we don't stop it places like Ballycullane will disappear. The shop, the post office, the pub - all these are going to disappear if we don't make it feasible for the farmers son or daughter to farm the land with him. It also causes s a huge health and safety issue. If that son is gone off to work the father is there working the farm on his own. It is causing another issue which has come to the fore in recent years. It's something Fianna Fáil should be adopting a policy on.'
Former councillor Jimmy Curtis said: 'People don't realise the seriousness of the farming situation. It's the longest year I can remember and I'm not a young fella. Two months added cost were added this year and that is not going to be recovered. You are not going to see the effects of it until the next couple of years.'
He said ribbon developments in rural areas are vital. 'Rural Ireland is more important than any place else.'
Cllr Joe Sullivan said the processors and supermarkets are getting the world class profit and the main producer is still at the lower end.
Cllr John Fleming said over half of farmers are aged over 55. He asked if farmers are being paid through their insurance for damage caused to their sheds and said solar farms is a misnomer.
'It's solar anti-farming'.
Eileen Furlong of the Rural Social Scheme said at a time when Lidl are selling bags of carrots for 39c it is impossible for farmers to make enough money.
She said mental health and loneliness is a huge issue across the country among farmers.
'There are a lot of farmers in Wexford who are in dire need and who are not asking for help.'
Former TD Hugh Byrne said: 'It was the longest, coldest, wettest winter I have known. People had to throw their milk out as they had no electricity.'
He said the time is for Fianna Fáil to call for action before the industry loses another vital sector, having lost the beet sector in the past.
'The sheep, suckler and tillage sectors are all under pressure. Potato crops are five weeks behind time. Let's form a policy plan that we would recommend nationally that there would be a forum. There are no farmers here tonight because every tractor in the country is red, as they say in the country.'