Tipperary farm leader Imelda Walsh says sector is continuing to battle 2020 challenges
Farming 2020 has had to cope with the challenges of Covid-19 and to be fair we’re possibly one of the few sectors that has managed to conduct our business to a degree of normality.
We are very fortunate that both our dairy and meat processing plants managed to operate to almost full capacity during the year and albeit there were challenges in the meat processing, in particular, management dealt swiftly and engaged with the appropriate sectors to keep the food chain working.
Farming families continue to ensure that our milk collectors, feed hauliers, vets and others who need to call to our farms do so with the assurance that all the correct hygiene and associated protocols are in place.
Due to Level 5 restrictions, our livestock marts are operating an online bidding system only, this is proving challenging for many with poor broadband and many farmers not comfortable buying stock online
At this time of year a lot of stock will be traded and farmers have understandably questioned why a blended system of strict social distancing in the ring in conjunction with online bidding cannot be facilitated as marts are spacious and can easily facilitate 25 farmers in the ring. This system would give more confidence to farmers both buying and selling.
TB became quite a talking point with many farmers questioning the relevance of the Department of Agriculture issuing letters outlining the farmers TB status.
The consensus of most was dealing with the issue after failing for 60 years and costing farmers and the taxpayer nearly a €100m a year should be the priority. It is concerning how little progress has been made. In line with Covid-19 restrictions, calves can be moved off farm without a TB test up to 120 days, a grace period of 28 days will apply from due date for herd test before herd will be restricted.
Forestry has turned into the poisoned chalice, with over a 1,000 farmers caught up in the licence issuing crisis,we are now facing timber shortages and threatening the future of the industry with exports worth €500m.
It appears that farmers with smaller forests are being discriminated with larger plantations getting priority.
Forest owners affected by ash dieback will have to be compensated.
Junior Minister Pippa Hackett needs to address these matters with urgency.
Market conditions justify higher beef prices. Demand for beef in the UK is strong - a market that we put 50% of our beef into. It is frustrating to see our beef processing plants stuck on €3.60/kg - €3.65/kg for steers and heifers. It is predicted that numbers will be tighter over the coming weeks.
It was greatly welcomed to see farmer controlled grass fed PGI and suckler based brands being agreed at the Beef Taskforce. Acknowledgement by the Department and Bord Bia that more needs to be done to promote suckler beef - and promising €6m in funding - was a positive move.
The year 2020 was a reasonably good year for dairy farmers despite the food service being severely disrupted due to Covid with exports YTD similar to 2019.
Farmers have invested €79.6m on LESS equipment such as trailing shoes and dribble bars. Farmers use of protected urea this year almost doubled from 21 tonnes to 40 tonnes. TAMs application deadline extended to November 19. From next year the stocking rate for dairy cows will increase from 85 to 89kg.
Budget 2021 saw the agriculture budget increase by €179m to €1.826bn. Roll over of all the farm schemes was welcome. The current agri taxation measures, most notably the consanguinity and consolidated, will continue for the next two to three years.
The announcement of funding for a food ombudsman is welcome. However, this person will need to ensure that, as the primary producer, the farmer must get a better margin. It is time that the retailer and processor were held to account. We will be watching closely to ensure this happens.
Brexit looms ever closer with talks continuing, though sometimes strained. As an island nation we are the most exposed with 38% or €5.5bn of Irish agri exports going into the UK. A worst case scenario may see our exports into the UK costing €1.5bn annually with tariffs.
We need to ensure that farming families will be adequately compensated in the event that a deal is not secured.
In addition to financial losses peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland would be at risk and may undo all the good work achieved by the Good Friday Agreement.
CAP continues to be discussed at EU level with eco schemes and a greener Europe to the fore of decision making with the European Council and the parliament disagreeing on whether eco schemes should make up 20 or 30% of Pillar I payments. The process now moves to trilogue between the EU Commission, council and parliament
As a farmer, I was shocked and disappointed to note that six Irish MEPs recently voted to scrap the CAP. We should always remember that the CAP was set up to support farmers to provide safe, nutritious and affordable food.
We need to ensure that farmers are not expected to do more for less when we see the low standards that some countries operate to- hormoned beef and chlorinated chicken, to name but a few.
IFA, like many other organisations, has embraced a new way of doing business due to Covid-19, with county executive and national council meetings moving online. We are fortunate that modern technology has allowed us to continue to engage with our members. To ensure that our election of officers take place as they fall due they will be conducted via postal votes. Branch agm deadlines have been extended to July 2021.
As we face into longer evenings, it’s important that we’re mindful of our more vulnerable members in our communities. It is particularly important this year as we live with Covid-19 that no one feels alone. Pick up the phone and check in to ensure they have everything they need.
It is very welcome that our community policing will continue with 28 extra garda recruits from the college in Templemore available to the five divisions in Tipperary. A visible Garda presence in the community gives us all greater reassurance.
As farming families we are very resilient, and in the course of our business we face many challenges. Covid-19 is a major challenge for all of us, but we will get through this.