Perhaps the major attraction for the 280,000 or so visitors at this week’s Ploughing Championships is the good nature and upbeat attitude of the farm families of Ireland.
Thankfully, farmers continue to keep the bright side out, with 72% expressing optimism in the 2017 Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll.
Since 2013, the poll has kept its finger on the pulse of what may be the most valuable commodity in Irish farming, confidence.
Taken collectively, the farmers of Ireland look after 6.6 million cattle, 3.4m sheep, 1.5m pigs, and more than 300,000 hectares of crops.
To face into that task each morning, it takes a lot of confidence and a positive attitude at individual farmer level.
Hence the importance of the annual poll question, “How optimistic or pessimistic are you about (a) farming in the future overall, and (b) the future of farming in your own sector?”
Those very or slightly optimistic were 79% in 2013, 69% in 2014, 72% in 2015, and 60% in 2016, returning this year to 72% of the 569 farmers polled across the country.
It’s remarkable that farmers express optimism across the board, and that young farmers are the most optimistic.
The poll optimism result varied from 67% of over-65s to 84% of under-34s.
Those figures belie the theory that farmers brush aside worries and the new challenges that crop every every year, because they’ve seen it all before. Instead, it is the less experienced farmers that are the most confident.
A pessimistic person would say that Irish farmers should be very afraid… but they aren’t.
Their confidence is remarkable, in a sector where the average income earned (excluding income earned by the farmer or his spouse on an off-farm job) has been about €25,000 for several years, with more than one farm in three earning less than €10,000.
Their confidence is also remarkable for the sector most exposed of all to the danger of a “hard” Brexit.
Economists in the Department of Finance have worked out what commodities traded across Europe are most susceptible to the potential negative effects of Brexit.
They say 11 of the 15 EU goods most exposed to Britain are Irish exports.
At the top of this ill-fated list are cereals, fruit and vegetables, from Ireland.
Not too far down the list are high volume Irish exports such as meat, dairy products, live animals, and manufactured wood products.
Our agri-food products are among the EU’s exports most exposed to Brexit because, along with “hard” Brexit tariffs adding to the costs of sending these products to the UK, increased competition from non-EU countries producing similar products could be expected after a hard Brexit.
Farmers know all this, with only 8% in the 2017 Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll saying they don’t think Brexit will affect farming in Ireland; 67% think that Brexit will have an effect on farming in Ireland in the future, and 25% say Brexit has already had an effect.
Farmers know they individually can have no control over the Brexit outcome, and they choose to look on the bright side and hope for a positive conclusion.
Perhaps they hope that the Irish agrifood industry will successfully innovate and find new market opportunities outside the UK, if forced to do so by Brexit.
Those who choose to look on the bright side may also put their faith in Ireland being the only English speaking country in the EU, and unique relationship with the UK, being major advantages for continued trading to the UK.
The glass is always half full for Irish farmers, accentuating the positives of relatively stable world prices for most commodities, and very high prices for milk, while eliminating the negatives such as weather risks, even if the farmers of Co Donegal, and grain growers around the country, have been so badly affected by the weather since the poll was taken in August.