Funding for farm schemes will be burning election issue

IFA leaders put thoughts of their own elections in April aside this week.
Funding for farm schemes will be burning election issue

Instead, they launched their submission to the national political parties and Dáil candidates, ahead of the 2016 General Election, which will take place sometime in the next 12 or 13 weeks.

IFA National Chairman Jer Bergin correctly informed the parties and general election candidates that the viability of family farms remains under threat from lower CAP supports and greater exposure to volatile world markets.

He called for full restoration of national funding for farm schemes, which was reduced during the national economic downturn.

The IFA statement went on to say that throughout that period of recession, the agri-food sector was a major driving force towards national economic recovery, delivering increased export earnings and sectoral employment growth throughout Ireland.

In 2014, the agri-food sector contributed €10.5bn worth of exports, employing 300,000 people directly and indirectly, making it Ireland’s largest indigenous productive sector.

With that statement, IFA could be accused of giving politicians a stick with which to beat farmers!

In the heat of election debate, politicians could counter farmer calls for extra funding, by pointing out that it was during the recession — when funding to the farming sector had to be cut — that the agri-food sector did best.

But farmer leaders would no doubt respond by saying that the agri-food sector did well in that period only because volatile world markets turned in favour of the agri-food sector, with higher prices enabling increased production and exports.

But what goes up must come down, and those markets could turn with a vengeance and leave the sector high and dry.

That has already happened in the dairy sector, leaving milk producers very worried about the prospect of low prices for the peak milk supply.

Euro weakness has been the main saviour for the EU dairy industry, protecting it from an even worse price slump.

But a 3% strengthening of the euro against sterling over the past month adds to Irish farmer and food exporter worries that even the currency exchange markets could be turning against our food industry, which is so dependent on exports to the sterling area.

With 50-80,000 additional finished cattle expected to put pressure on the beef market here in 2016, an unfavourable currency trend is the last thing the beef industry wants.

So these are — as always — uncertain times for our two main agri-food sectors.

Meanwhile, there seems little prospects of price improvements for grain to help our tillage farmers, and some of their crops have probably died under flood waters.

As for the pig industry, it surely cannot withstand much more of the hard times that have beset it for years.

How can the new Government support farmers as they again feel the pinch of unfavourable global market trends?

IFA wants stronger EU supports for farmers, robust defence of Ireland’s interests in trade policy and climate change negotiations, action on input costs and effective measures to redress the imbalance of power in the food supply chain.

Realistically, these are all very big asks for any government. Ireland is only one voice in 28 looking for EU help, or in EU negotiations in trade policy and climate change negotiations.

Competition laws limit how much Government can reduce farm input costs, and give farmers greater power in the food supply chain.

This leaves restoration of funding for farm schemes as the surest way for a new Government to help farmers.

The IFA submission points in particular to the need to restore cuts to payment rates for disadvantaged areas, and to allocate €250m for GLAS.

It is those areas that parties and candidates are likely to find farmer voters most receptive — along with improving rural services and infrastructure, and taxation measures that improve farm profitability, promote on-farm investment, and encourage young farmers.

For those in flooded areas, IFA’s demand for a single authority to manage waterways and tackle flooding is the other obvious area in which parties and candidates can be pro-active.

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