Imelda Walsh, chair, North Tipperary IFA: derogation for dairy is important
Derogation for the dairy sector was of huge importance and with it up for review this year it was vital that it was secured, North Tipperary IFA chair Imelda Walsh told the association’s agm.
She said that farmers and co- ops had invested over €2bn in their businesses since the “shackles of a milk quota regime” were removed.
“We cannot allow our dairy sector to be the sacrificial lamb that panders to environmental groupings without science to back it up,” she declared.
Ms Walsh told the agm, which was held virtually, that Budget 2021 saw the agriculture budget increase by €179m to €1.826bn.
She welcomed the announcement of funding for a food ombudsman, however, said 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 are held to account. We will be watching closely to ensure this happens,” she warned.
On Brexit, she said that finally it happened after much sometimes strained discussions.
Farmers like many breathed a sigh of relief when we finally had an EU -UK trade and co operation agreement, she said.
Ms Walsh said that CAP continued to be discussed at EU level with eco schemes and a greener Europe to the fore.
“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,” she said.
In a wide ranging address to the agm, Ms Walsh said that farm accidents continued to be “a scourge on our industry”, accounting for 50% of all workplace fatalties.
The total of 19 farm fatalties was unacceptable.
“Our sector needs to get real with farm safety. We can no longer continue the mantra that it won’t happen to me,” said Ms Walsh.
She commended the students from Nenagh CBS on their video highlighting the dangers on farms.
“Please put farm safety as your priority in 2021,” she pleaded.
Ms Walsh said that, in 2020, farming had to cope with the challenges of Covid-19, and, unfortunately, the challenge was continuing in 2021.
“To be fair we’re possibly one of the few sectors that has managed to conduct our business to a degree of normality,” she said.
They had been fortunate that dairy and meat processing plants managed to operate to almost full capacity during the year and farm families had continued to ensure that milk collectors, feed hauliers, vets and others who needed to call to farms did so with the assurance that all the correct hygiene and associated protocols were in place.
Restrictions meant livestock marts had been operating an online bidding system only, she said, This was proving challenging for some, with poor broadband and many were not comfortable buying online.
“Farmers have understandably questioned why a blended system of strict social distancing in the ring in conjunction with online bidding cannot be facilitated,” she said.
Forestry had 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 €500,000,” said Ms Walsh.
She said that market conditions justified higher beef prices and acknowledgement by the Department and Bord Bia that more needed to be done to promote suckler beef and promising €6m in funding was a positive move.
She said that 2020 was a reasonably good year for dairy farmers, despite the food service being severely disrupted due to Covid, with exports year to date similar to 2019.
Ms Walsh remembered those lost during 2020 who, unfortunately, we couldn’t pay our respects in the manner we would have wanted.
In other areas, she said that sheep sector enjoyed recognition of their top quality product, but tillage farmers had another challenging year. Bad weather last spring, followed by a drought like conditions impacted on yield. She encouraged more use of native Irish grains.