AFTER an enjoyable few weeks spent in Dunbeacon over Christmas catching up with friends, neighbours and family, I am settling back into life in Brussels.
As farmers prepare for the busy lambing and calving season, the ‘European machine’ takes a while to warm up. But there was some good news for Irish farmers in early January, when Dublin got the green light to export its beef to the US for the first time in almost 17 years.
Ireland is the first country to regain access to the lucrative US market after Washington banned European beef over BSE concerns in 1998. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney hailed the move and said that ‘Irish farmers now have first-mover advantage as a result of being the first EU Member State to gain entry’.
Berlin goes green
One of the big agricultural events in the calendar will be the International Green Week in Berlin – attracting around half a million people annually – which kicks off on January 15th. My colleague Ed Bray will attend the fair and fly the AGRA FACTS flag and I will hold the fort back in Brussels.
EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan will deliver a speech at the opening ceremony and has lined up bilateral meetings with Ministers from Uruguay and Chile. During his second official visit to Berlin, he will also deliver a speech at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture 2015 where the growing demand for food is up for discussion.
For more details on Green Week check out - http://www.gruenewoche.de/en/
Meanwhile, the small Baltic State of Latvia takes over the reins of the EU rotating Presidency. The first Agriculture Council of 2015 – that gathers together Ministers from the 28 Member States – will take place in Brussels on January 26. At the meeting, Latvian Minister Jnis Dklavs will provide an overview of his work programme for the next six months and the Commission will provide an update on the Russian food import ban in place since August 2014.
First session of year
MEPs travelled to Strasbourg this week for the first plenary session of the year (January 12th to 16th). The House was expected to back a deal giving countries stronger rights to ban the cultivation of genetically-modified crops – the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques – on their territory.
The change could allow the faster approval of biotech crops enabling pro-GMO countries such as Spain to grow them. The plans also aim to avoid awkward legal spats after countries flouted EU rules by banning the cultivation of the only authorised GM crop MON810 - grown for animal feed - without scientific justification.
Commissioner Phil Hogan has promised to promote a fairer price for farmers and improve their position in the food supply chain. Speaking at a ceremony to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Irish Farmers’ Association in Dublin last week – his first official visit on home soil – he said fertiliser and other input costs must fall in line with overall energy prices.
The Kilkenny man pointed in particular to the 7% price increase in fertilisers expected in Ireland this year and questioned if such a rise was in breach of EU competition law. ‘All players in the food chain should realise that it is imperative that producers get a decent return for their raw material. Without producers none of the downstream businesses would even exist,’ Hogan told the 1,700-strong audience.
Ready for the challenge
It should be an interesting year here in Brussels on the agricultural scene and, after a couple weeks of feasting on my mother’s delicious brown cake and my sister Mary’s top class roast dinners, I feel ready for the challenges ahead.
Dunbeacon looked resplendent under the blue skies as the New Year dawned – maybe not on January 1st (!) but certainly on the second day of 2015 – and I look forward to seeing baby lambs and the first signs of Spring in the air the next time I am home in West Cork.
• Rose O’Donovan is editor of the Brussels-based AGRA FACTS and a regular contributor to the video platform www.vieuws.eu