THIS week saw farmers protesting in Cork city and Monaghan over rising costs and poor payments for food supplies.
The farmers had opted to picket the high profile Irish retailer Dunnes Stores to make their case heard.
Less than two days of protesting saw a result – with management of the multiple agreeing to meet to discuss price increases to suppliers and address rising costs for the sector.
On Tuesday night the IFA and the retailer met and held what was later described as ‘constructive’ talks. And, as a result of the decision to start talking, the protests were called off in Bishopstown and Monaghan.
Kinsale-based Nigel Sweetnam, the IFA’s poultry sector chairman, said that other retailers have met with the IFA and acknowledged the issue of rising costs, but they too will ‘need to act’.
The word ‘sustainability’ is on everyone’s lips right now, but for different reasons.
Right now, the farmers are saying the industry is not ‘sustainable’ unless the prices they are paid for their produce are increased by retailers.
And his counterpart in the IFA pig committee, Roy Gallie, said that pig farmers also need retailers and the government to step up.
They are caught between feed price increases on one side, and falling prices on the other, he said.
There is no denying that our farmers are facing a very challenging few months, at the very least. This week the CSO said its agricultural price index showed that fertiliser prices had increased by 86.9% in December 2021, compared with same month in 2020.
Overall, when 2021 is compared with 2020, the data shows that fertiliser prices increased by 25% in the twelve months.
This is a price hit that farmers are having to factor in, on top of the rise in energy prices which, in turn, has meant a rise in transport and other fuel prices, and the general inflation in the cost of living, which the entire population is now coming to terms with.
There is no sector of the economy that is not currently grappling with rises costs and prices. But there is an enduring sense from the farming sector that they are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to government support.
The agricultural sector looked with some envy on the publicity generated by equally hard-pressed fishermen and women in recent weeks by the Russian ‘war games’ story.
While the initial complaint seemed relatively trivial to many – the disruption to fishing grounds by Russian warships – the bigger picture was that Irish fishermen got to tell their post-Brexit tale of perceived ‘abandonment’ by both Brussels and Dublin.
Now the farmers want their voices to be heard, too.
Low prices on our supermarket shelves tell their own story. The supermarkets are not going to be taking any unnecessary hit – so the problem filters down to the ground – literally.
There seems to be no end to the love-in between the government and the large multinational technology and social media firms – as the constant plethora of photo opportunities with government ministers at big work campuses would suggest.
But we should be wary of courting the often fickle foreign-owned behemoths in favour of minding our own indigenous industries and sectors, like farming and fishing.
Unless there is a major effort by both retailers and government alike to help stem the multi-headed attacks on the farming industry, we can expect to see a lot more farmers protesting on our streets.