“Invisible restructuring taking place – with factories renting cattle yards and tillage land being farmed, not by the farmer, but by the merchant,” – Mairead McGuinness
It‘s essential that farmers come together to work in groups to get the best possible terms for their produce from the marketplace, Mairead McGuiness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament told the annual dinner of the Boyne Valley Lamb Producer Group in Navan on Friday night. (9th Nov.)
She said individual farmers lack power, farmers working collectively have power to influence and also provide support to each other by being part of groups.
On proposed reform of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) she said threats to the budget are real and the comments from the EU Court of Auditors questioning the effectiveness of direct payments will fuel opposition to the CAP.
“The big issue in the reforms is environmental delivery and climate action,” she said.
“Every farmer I speak with is adamant that they do not go out to harm the environment and in fact would value help and support to make their farms more environmentally sustainable.”
She said financial sustainability is also a key issue for many farm families, with the direct support system contributing a significant and sometimes total share of the farm income.
“Reforming the policy must be done with the difficult, but not impossible, task of sustaining family farm and enhancing environmental delivery. And all sectors of farming must deliver on this.
“A sole emphasis on increasing output will not work in the medium to long term,” she warned saying short-term gains can cause long-term pain and the damage costly to repair.
“There has to be a space for nature on all farms.”
Land linked direct payments have replaced production linked payments of the past, she said.
“These payments while essential can have a distorting effect on land rents, especially for young farmers who need access to land to farm and find it difficult to get that land.”
Despite the pressures on farming, access to land is a big issue and farmers who rely on renting land say they’re losing land to other farmers able to pay a higher price.
“There is an invisible restructuring taking place – with factories renting cattle yards and tillage land being farmed, not by the farmer, but by the merchant,” McGuinness said. “These developments are unsettling and are the subject of quiet conversations countrywide.”
McGuinness commented on what she sees as increasing divisions between different sectors of farming.
“While I urge lamb producers to work together as the Boyne Valley group successfully does, I would also urge farmers to find common ground across the sectors and not allow divisions deepen and weaken the collective voice of farming and rural areas.
“This is a difficult issue with no simple solution – a recognition of the pressures different sectors face is essential and we need an open and frank conversation about what we want for our farms for the future,” she said.
She complimented the Boyne Valley group for their activities, which also include a social and community aspect – supporting each other and supporting local charities.
McGuinness questioned the long term sustainability of the food supply chain and the relentless pressures farmers face.
Legislation to stop unfair trading practices is in the pipeline and should be a wake-up call to the powerful in the food chain to act responsibly and ethically in their treatment of the primary producer.
“Farming with nature is the only way forward, but rewarding and incentivising farmers is essential, as is the need for practical advice and guidance.
“Brexit will impact the farm sector but it’s unclear how deep. But high animal health, welfare and environmental standards will remain a big part of the EU food system,” she added.