THIS weekend’s departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union and next week’s general election in Ireland has given our struggling farmers an opportunity to highlight their plight and call on politicians to outline what exactly they are going to do for them.
Farmers’ current round of troubles started when Brexit was voted for in 2016 and sterling fell hugely in value against the euro, thereby reducing the real value of Irish agri-food exports to the UK in particular. They had to seek compensation from the EU and our own government and a €100m aid package was agreed to offset some of the losses.
Dairy farmers’ incomes have increased with expansion after the removal of milk quotas and more drystock farmers are switching to the lucrative dairy sector. However, it has been a nightmare scenario for beef producers with little upward movement in prices from the meat factories to help make farmers’ enterprises viable.
Times have been tough for them, for sheep and pig producers, and tillage farmers. Further threats are coming down the line in the form of calls from climate activists to cull the national herd and encourage people to eat less meat, plus the prospect of cheap beef imports from South American countries if the Mercosur trade deal is sanctioned by the EU and a likely reduction in payments under the 2021 to 2027 tranche of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
This will be a defining year for farmers, because even though some new markets have been sourced for their food produce, unfortunately adding to food miles, most would be happier to be dealing, as heretofore, with our nearest neighbours across the pond. But the extent of that going forward very much depends on the success of the UK’s trade negotiations with the EU in the coming months and the extent to which the imposition of tariffs can be limited or – better still – avoided. CAP negotiations are in the pipeline too.
Meanwhile, candidates calling to farmers need to be able to tell them how they are going to address their concerns about farm incomes and the environment if they want to earn their votes.