Next Tuesday will see the farm leaders’ debate take place on the Irish Farmers Journal demonstration farm, Tullamore Farm.
Not every current farm organisation can fit on the same stage, but it will feature the main dairy farmer-focused organisation, the ICMSA, the main drystock farmer-focused organisation, the ICSA, the main tillage farmer-focused organisaton, the IGG, and the main organisation focusing on extensive and hill farmers, the INHFA.
Macra, which represents young farmers, will also be on board, as of course will the IFA, the largest farming organisation, and one that represents all these groups of farmers.
Between them, they represent well over 100,000 members, even allowing for the dual and multiple membership many farmers choose to hold.
There is much to discuss, with farming at a crossroads.
CAP reform, the Nitrates Action Programme proposals and carbon reduction targets for the sector are all happening at the same time, although it’s hard to say if they’re all pulling in the same direction.
Finding a coherent pathway for a family farm is a challenge. Finding a coherent message to present on behalf of any section of farmers is a difficult challenge.
All of this upheaval is being cloaked in a reassuring haze of good prices across the board for farm produce. Has it ever happened before that the main commodities – milk, meat and grain – were all buoyant at the same time for a full year?
However, a summer of abundant grass is of little use the following spring if the silage runs out.
Costs are rising so fast that margins are being eaten up. The fear is that if prices fall back, but inputs stay high, farmers could be badly squeezed. It’s happened before, most recently in 2009, and will happen again. The only question is whether it will happen over the next 12 months, but most of the ingredients for a price/cost squeeze are in place.
Farmers have been apart for 18 months now, so have had little chance to discuss and debate these fundamental issues.
The individual farm organisations have had an internal conversation, with Zoom meetings the only option available.
The purpose of the debate is to allow Tim Cullinan, Pat McCormack, Dermot Kelleher, Vincent Roddy, Bobby Miller and John Keane the opportunity to articulate their organisation’s vision of how their members can prosper through this new decade.
There are no easy answers, and with resources finite and scarce, farmers are often competing for land, for funding, for markets and prices.
Any farmer who cares about the future should tune in next Tuesday to hear their elected leaders, some for the first time, on the key issues.