THE Southern Star 2020 Great West Cork Farming Survey – part one of the findings of which are carried on pages 16 and 17 of this week’s newspaper – reveal the concerns of local farmers about issues that are affecting them and their enterprises. Unfortunately, many of these – such as the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant restrictions, along with Brexit trade talks and negotiation of the next tranche of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – are outside of their control.
We asked to what extent farmers thought the Covid-19 pandemic was affecting their enterprises and 13.73% said it was hitting them severely, 18.63% somewhat and 4.9% not at all, while the majority, 62.75%, thought it was having ‘somewhat’ of an effect. The reasons they cited were numerous, mainly financial, such as ‘paying to feed stock that have less value at market,’ ‘lower farm gate price for milk, beef, etc,’ ‘product price will fall hence income will drop’ and ‘ability to secure loans due to lower income.’
The closure of marts up to this week, making the selling of calves difficult, was cited as another factor and the market for beef was also adversely affected by recent beef factory and fast food outlet closures; restaurant and food service closures resulted in a reduced demand for prime steak cuts, ‘which are the most valuable part of the carcass,’ and the ‘lack of tourists and locals eating out’ was also a cited by respondents.
Covid-19, they said, has affected global commodity markets, led to a reduction in demand for milk, cheese, butter, powder, etc and to the dropping of the milk price. From a human resources viewpoint, not letting relief milkers work on farms in case of people getting Covid-19 has had an effect on both the farmer – who is tied to having to do it all the time – and the relief milker who has not had work available. Also, for part-time farmers, there has not been as much, if any, off-farm employment available to supplement their incomes.
The 2020 Great West Cork Farming Survey also revealed that 47.5% of our farmers are ‘severely worried’ about falling price for farm product, while 50.5% are ‘somewhat worried.’ And, almost two-thirds of farmers feel the government and EU are not doing enough to protect farm incomes, while the other third feel what they are doing is ‘adequate.’
Climate action is one area where farmers can effect change and, in fairness, the vast majority are ready to play their part for their own good and that of their families and the wider community. Most farmers will tell you that they are merely the custodians of their holdings and that their primary aim is to make their farms more sustainable for passing on to the next generation in a better condition than they received them from the preceding generation.
Some 61% of those who took the survey feel that criticisms of farmers over greenhouse gas emissions are ‘not at all justified,’ while 36% concede that the criticisms are ‘somewhat justified.’
Forty and half percent feel that climate action is a very important priority for them, while 51.5% regard the matter as somewhat important. The fact that only a mere 8% dismiss it as ‘not so important’ a priority means that West Cork farmers overall treat it seriously, which is a good thing for the environment and, instead of being pilloried, they should be given all the help and encouragement they need to reduce their carbon footprint while producing the high-quality food the area is noted for.
Farmers’ role in food production was highlighted and, hopefully, appreciated a lot more by people during the Covid-19 lockdown. It is incumbent on all of us to support local food production in this land of plenty that we are lucky enough to call home.
Apart from the damage done to farm prices as a result of Covid-19, the spectre of Brexit is still looming large in the background and how local farmers feel they will be affected by this and the new CAP negotiations will be revealed next week in the second part of their responses to the 2020 Great West Cork Farming Survey. They will also share their opinions on rural isolation, mental health and the future for young farmers.
What comes across in the answers to the survey is a distinct lack of whinging, but rather a pragmatic attitude to the obstacles they face, confirming our long-held view that West Cork farmers are quite a resilient bunch, prepared to work hard to keep their enterprises going. However, it is incumbent on the government and the EU to ensure that they are adequately rewarded for the vital work they do.