Farmers should take the time to briefly reflect on past, then quickly plan for future

Farmers can look back over the year, and hopefully can see how their business has improved, how they have added to their lot, and provided for themselves and their families, writes Kieran Coughlan.

Farmers should take the time to briefly reflect on past, then quickly plan for future

Farmers can look back over the year, and hopefully can see how their business has improved, how they have added to their lot, and provided for themselves and their families, writes Kieran Coughlan. 

It’s also a time to plan for the future, the natural break period of the year, and can allow for a bit more head space for farmers to think about the coming year and beyond and how they and their business will change.

At last week’s Ulster Bank seminar entitled Building

Capabilities in Agriculture, Minister Michael Creed spoke to farmers and their advisors about the opportunities and challenges facing Irish farmers, naming Brexit, CAP reform and the climate change agenda as being the three biggest disruptors to Irish agriculture in the medium term.

The minister reassured farmers that the Department of Agriculture had its own dedicated taskforce and

together with a bolstered Bord Bia is doing all it can to support trading relationships with the UK and to develop new markets for beef in Japan, South Korea and other eastern countries.

The risks from Brexit in the event that the UK crashes out of the EU are imposition of WTO tariffs which would impose a greater than 50% cost on the importation of beef from Ireland to the EU. The minister reminded those in attendance that the devaluation of sterling has resulted in food inflation for British consumers as the drop in

the value of the pound means imports are more expensive. Third-party Mercosur countries could capitalise on a fallout between the UK and the EU offering British consumers tariff-free cheaper imports. Ireland will not be able to negotiate its own individual deal with the UK, instead our trading position post-Brexit will fall under the remit of the overall EU agreement. We must ensure that relationships between the EU and the UK don’t become strained. The next CAP shakeup will also result in changes at farm level.

The minister stated that the agreement of the overall CAP Budget post-2020 is the first priority. The issue of food security is perhaps less relevant now than in the 1950s when the foundations of the EU project were laid. He said the CAP has delivered for farmers and for consumers, not only in terms of food but also for the environment and water quality.

Ireland’s climate change commitments will constrain output and farmers will need to take measures to reduce their carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. In answering questions from the floor Mr Creed stated that Agriculture won’t get a free pass in relation to our commitments.

We are already among the most efficient farmers in the world in terms of carbon efficiency for beef and dairy, but the industry as a whole needs to do more. Already schemes such as GLAS and Beef Genomics are paying dividends in reducing our greenhouse-gas profile.

The minister summarised by stating that Ireland’s agriculture industry has always experienced challenges and by acting collectively Ireland’s agriculture industry can meet current and future challenges.

Ulster bank was on hand to advise how it was willing to lend to farming businesses, and suggested that farmers should come to the bank armed with accounts, and profit projections in order that their own business successes can be mapped out for the past, present and future.

Apart from the minister, a most interesting speaker from AWARE highlighted how farmers need to look after themselves, and should see themselves as being the most important asset on their farm. All too often, a farmer’s focus is on minding animals, looking after the land, or tending to his business — one of the key messages is that farmers should take time out to spend on themselves, doing things from which they get great enjoyment, spending time in the company of others.

For personal happiness, farmers should make sure they get a sense of achievement from what they do, that they have fun and spend time with friends. Christmas is a great time of the year to catch up with friends and family so take some time off from work, you deserve it.

In the words of John Lennon, ‘so this is Christmas, and what have you done, another year over and and a new one just begun’.

Take stock, wind down and prepare mentally for the coming year. A very happy Christmas and best wishes to all followers of this column.

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