Addressing the 64th Annual General Meeting in the Irish Farm Centre in Dublin today (Tues), IFA President Joe Healy said there are ‘make-or-break’ decisions imminent for the farming & food sector that will require strong political leadership.
The IFA President said our largest indigenous sector faces multiple threats and the focus of the Government & the EU Commission has to be on the correct policy decisions to secure its future.
And he mounted a strong defence of our food production in light of recent global reports.
Joe Healy said with two months to the end of March, the Brexit turmoil has consumed the political system for almost three years. In a process characterised by uncertainty, the one certainty is that it would be a disaster for Irish farming.
The ‘backstop’ has to remain, unless the UK adjust their ‘red lines’ and come forward with something better and we must continue to have unfettered access to our largest market.
“We have made a very strong case to the EU Commissioner Phil Hogan that we need support. In recent weeks, Minister Creed finally recognised that beef farmers are ‘losing their shirts’. Farmers need €20 per head for every 5c per kilo reduction.”
Ahead of the European Parliament elections, our clear message will be that there must be an increased CAP budget, with two elements: direct payments supporting active farmers, AND a well-funded Rural Development Programme.
Joe Healy said no Irish Commissioner or Minister for Agriculture could ever agree to a reduced budget. We need the budget increased to take account of inflation, and to compensate farmers for any further requirements imposed on them.
The next CAP cannot result in farmers who are already struggling being made unviable. Reducing the payments of other small and medium sized farmers (the squeezed middle) who have already suffered huge cuts makes no sense.
Defining a genuine farmer will be challenging, but we must take it on. CAP funding should go to genuine farmers. Sheikh Mohammad, Coolmore Stud, Larry Goodman & their likes are not ‘genuine farmers’. CAP direct payments can no longer be used to fund Sheikhs and beef barons.
They should be used for farmers who are up in the middle of the night to calve cows, lamb ewes and work around the clock to harvest crops.
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will address the AGM this evening and we expect to hear a strong commitment from him on the CAP Budget. Farmers will judge the Taoiseach on how he delivers on this and other key issues.
Joe Healy said farmers were annoyed & disappointed with his recent comments about meat. “Of course, the Taoiseach can eat what he likes, but as the leader of a country which relies so heavily on our agri sector, we expect him to be more supportive of our top-quality products. He needs to remember he is the Taoiseach for all of Ireland, not just Dublin.”
The Oireachtas Climate Committee will report shortly. Minister Richard Bruton will address the AGM tomorrow to discuss how best to move climate action forward.
Teagasc has a roadmap that has 27 measures, which could reduce climate emissions by almost nine megatonnes. These measures will require further actions by farmers. It will not be easy, but IFA is willing to embrace the proposals which are based on scientific logic.
I have written to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and requested him to co-ordinate the Government Departments & state agencies in the delivery of this climate pathway for the sector. We will do more, but the Government approach must be more carrot & less stick.
Concluding today’s address, Joe Healy hit back at some of the commentary surrounding recent global reports on diet. He said farmers have come under attack from all angles.
“People are entitled to eat what they want, but they are not entitled to spread misinformation, fear and falsehoods about farming and the food we produce. Since the dawn of civilisation human beings have lived on a balanced diet of meat, dairy, cereals and vegetables. Life expectancy in the countries who can afford meat in their diets has been increasing.”
Joe Healy said, “Farmers are being told that we should give up producing meat and milk and instead produce fruit and nuts. We won’t be getting rid of our livestock. We produce the best food in the world, naturally, from animals grazing in fields”.
“We won’t be driven off the land by keyboard warriors, quacks or lifestyle gurus. We are proud to be farmers and we are here to stay.”