Six years on, ICMSA’s John Comer still fears milk price volatility ’nightmare’
could end up being held hostage by another member state demanding that, for instance, their people have a freedom of movement concession from the UK similar to the one we’ll presumably continue to enjoy.
I want to believe that Ireland’s interests are front and centre and, in fairness to Mr Barnier [the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator], he has been consistent on this.
But I recently had to take issue publicly with a prominent French farm leader who stated that his members could not accept an open border between North and South, over which non-EU imports could move freely.
This is exactly what I fear, that others, through no real fault of their own, just can’t appreciate that a hard border would be disastrous for the farming and agri-food sectors, as well as raising issues that we had left behind, with huge difficulty and sacrifice by all sides.
I have to say that the course being pursued by the Irish Government seems to me to be the right one. We have to make all other parties, whether in the UK or the EU, understand that the preservation of our centuries old, multi-billioneuro food trade with the UK on a tariff-free basis is a central national strategic objective. There’s one other aspect of Brexit that needs to be emphasised.
The CAP Post 2020 will have to be maintained at present levels of funding, at least. That means that the remaining Member States, including Ireland, will have to make good the UK contribution.
I’ve said it from the first day of my Presidency of ICMSA, and I’ll go on repeating it to my last: CAP and direct payments are not a subsidy to the farmer, they are actually a subsidy to the retailers, that enables EU consumers to buy the highest quality food, produced to the highest standards of sustainability, at a price that does not sufficiently reward the farmer. These farmer direct payments are the cost of the EU’s ‘cheap food’ policy.
You’ve described excessive milk price volatility as a “nightmare” for dairy farmers. What’s needed to solve this problem?
>> “Nightmare” is not an exaggeration. It’s not possible to run a family farm with fixed or rising costs against a background where the milk price can swing from 22cpl to 34cpl in one year. Where you can go from having no income whatsoever in one year to a reasonable level of income the next year, while raising your family at the same time. Farmers don’t want a peakand-trough model. ICMSA certainly doesn’t want that. How can you plan any business on that basis? How do you invest or borrow?
We need a mechanism that addresses income volatility, and that’s why ICMSA has recommended a number of initiatives to the Departments of Finance and Agriculture, Food & the Marine.
One is a Farm Management Deposit Scheme that allows farmers to put away funds in good years in a official and tax-compliant deposit scheme, that they can draw down in bad years, when price volatility, or price falls, mean that income disappears.
We think it’s a measured and workable model that will tackle the nightmare, and we’re quietly confident that our arguments have been heard, and might bear fruit in next month’s budget.
ICMSA president John Comer on his farm at Ballyvary, Castlebar, Co Mayo: as he approaches the end of his six years as president, he says we must make all other parties to Brexit understand that preserving our centuries old, multibillion-euro, tariff-free food trade with the UK is a central national strategic objective.