It’s time for us to ditch the ‘moaning farmer’
AS 2018 draws to a close, it is good to reflect on a difficult year for many farmers and see what lessons can be learned.
It is often said there are two certainties in life, death and taxes; in farming the two certainties are weather volatility and price volatility.
Many farmers live in hope of the perfect year — that year when the weather is perfect, and prices are good, but the reality is that such years are few and far between.
In any case, the weather or price which is favourable for one farmer may be unfavourable for another farmer. For example, when feed prices go up, it suits the tillage farmer but does not suit the livestock farmer.
This ‘perfect year’ mentality, perpetuating constant disappointment, is the root cause of the ‘moaning farmer’ reputation our industry has acquired over the years. Of course, when there is a crisis, the ‘moaning farmer’ interview on TV or social media feeds perfectly into the voracious appetite for negative news stories in media outlets.
This leads me to the first of what I feel are the four big lessons for farmers from 2018.
Expect and plan for crisis events
Farmers who take a longerterm view and who expect and plan for weather and price volatility are much better able to cope with such events. Take our pig farmers for example. They are in dire straits financially due to the combination of low pig prices and higher feed prices. Many are producing pigs below the cost of production which is costing them hundreds of thousands in losses, yet there is minimal moaning and groaning as most are just dealing with it and waiting for the price to turn.
The pig and tillage farmers have been through this below-cost-of-productionprice cycle many times; their tenacity and endurance stems from this experience.
This is a situation our dairy, beef and sheep farmers have never experienced.
Yes, there have been times of low prices for milk, sheep and beef, but never to the extent of the huge losses in pigs and tillage.
Climate change is real
Having attended a number of events on climate change this year, it is very clear that climate change is real. The planet is heating up, which is affecting our weather patterns. In Ireland, this means we are getting more rain every year, temperatures are up and our summers are drier.
Humans are causing this change by increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere.
The main culprit is carbon dioxide (Co2) from cars, transport and industry, but also nitrous oxide (No2) and methane (CH4) from agriculture.
It’s vital to view the resolution of this problem in a global context, but it is clear we all will be required to put our shoulder to the wheel to mitigate the issue.
For farmers here, this will most likely become a reality with the next EU CAP reform measures. It is widely anticipated future payments and schemes will be linked to mitigation measures in this area.
On the ground, this is now influencing investment plans on farms. When 15 and 20year bank loans are taken out to fund investments on dairy farms and profits of increased cow numbers are the main source of repaying these loans, it is important to factor in the possibility of additional compliance costs in respect of climate change mitigation.
To me, the challenges of climate change represent a huge