It’s time for us to ditch the ‘moan­ing farmer’

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE - MIKE BRADY

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

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