THE huge dangers which could face Irish agriculture as a result of Brexit were highlighted at the recent large gathering of farmers from all parts of the country, including West Cork, which took place in Kilkenny.
The principal speaker was the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan. In the event of a hard Brexit, we are likely to face devastating tariffs on our agricultural exports to Britain, which is our biggest market.
While this is a disastrous prospect, the second problem is that there will be a substantial shortfall in the EU budget as a result of the loss of Britain’s contribution to it. This poses an additional threat to Irish farming. The support payments, on which farmers depend for a large part of their income, could then be cut.
The main aim of the Kilkenny meeting was to highlight the pressing need for the other EU countries to increase their contributions to the budget so as to avoid this threat. Commissioner Hogan told the packed hall at O’Loughlin Gaels GAA headquarters that he is doing everything in his power to protect the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy, but the scale of the challenge is unprecedented.
Setting the scene, Professor Thia Hennessy, head of the Cork Business School at UCC, outlined how important the direct payments were for the incomes of Irish farmers. Angus Woods, IFA Livestock chairman and Philip Tallon of Dawn Meats spoke on the livestock situation; Tom Phelan, IFA Dairy chairman, and Jim Bergin of Glanbia covered the scenario for dairy farmers while Mark Browne, IFA Grain chairman and James Brett of Brett Brothers Ltd dealt with the problems of the tillage sector.
Joe Healy, IFA national president, delivered a powerful speech in which he emphasised, not only the strong case for an increase in the contributions of the EU member-states, but also an increase in the direct farm payments, which are being continually eroded by inflation.
The final part of the meeting saw speakers from the floor of the hall making a strong input in support of the case which had earlier been made by the speakers on the stage.