LAST Sunday tens of Irish farmers formed a convoy of tractors to Dáil Eireann, from the four corners of the country, to bring their concerns for their futures to the national parliament.
Due to the recent high Covid figures, their original plan of a farm family day out was scaled down, and it was reduced to a ‘tractor-only’ protest.
Mindful of keeping the public on side, the protest did not cause any traffic problems, as it was pre-arranged with An Garda Siochána, who provided an escort from Bluebell on the Naas Road, through to Kildare Street and on to Merrion Square, where the farmers held a short rally.
Our farmers are very worried and they believe that nobody is listening to their concerns.
The somewhat glib comment that they are being made the ‘poster boys and girls for climate change’ nevertheless resonates with many of them, despite the protestations of our Green environment minister Eamon Ryan.
Suffice it to say, Mr Ryan would not be top of many farmers’ Christmas card lists this year.
The confusion over statements about reducing the size of the national herd has not helped.
Nor have their fears about cuts under the Cap proposals.
Fertiliser price hikes, food inflation and fuel increases are all coming down the tracks at speed.
All of these elements could form a substantial perfect storm in the next year or two, which could cause devastation to one of Ireland’s most important indigenous manufacturing sectors, which employs over 167,000 people.
If any other industry representing as many members were to protest in Dublin, one would imagine it would have received a lot more media coverage last weekend.
IFA president Tim Cullinan met Taoiseach Michael Martin last June, telling him the combination of Cap and the Climate Action Bill could effectively shut down commercial farming in Ireland.
Government policies must support our largest indigenous industry, he urged him.
A cohort of farmers, many of whom are the most productive farmers, are being hit with huge cuts under Cap, he said. In addition, the Climate Bill, the subsequent carbon budget and sectoral targets could result in huge additional regulation being imposed on the same group of farmers, he also pointed out.
Mr Cullinan said farms sequester carbon and this has to be fully factored into the calculation of carbon budgets and sectoral targets.
At Sunday’s rally, Mr Cullinan said the 22% target to cut carbon emissions in agriculture could result in the loss of 10,000 jobs in the sector. The cost to the rural economy could be anything up to €1.2bn a year, he estimated – describing it as ‘a massive cost for rural Ireland’.
He said the government really has to sit up and listen to what farmers are saying. A ‘whole of government’ approach for a plan around this, a proper plan with the proper funding, is needed urgently, the IFA boss urged.
According to the Teagasc National Farm survey, only one-third of farmers in Ireland are viable.
Many are wondering now if even that figure is too optimistic, given what is facing the sector in the coming years.
Sunday’s protest was very well organised and very well mannered, with no traffic chaos caused, but farmers warn that if their concerns are ignored, then they will be back. And next time, one would imagine, they might not be so polite.