Irish Farmers Angered By The Government

Irish Farmers Angered By The Government

Wednesday 29th March 2023

Clare Abbey Quin County Clare
Clare Abbey Quin County Clare – credit Patrick R.

Deputy Michael Collins

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— farmers are angered by the Government’s plans for tougher measures that will drastically reduce emissions in the agricultural sector, leading to downsizing and closure of otherwise viable farms;

— Ireland has a proud tradition of clean and green grassland agricultural production, with farms often being managed by the same families for generations;

— over the last decade, successive Irish Governments have recommended, promoted, and encouraged farmers to increase the Irish dairy herd;

— in 2014 and 2015, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine openly promoted and actively encouraged the expansion of the Irish dairy herd by more than 20-25 per cent over the following five-year period, claiming that such an increase would not result in commensurate emissions from the agricultural sector;

— the Government’s promotion to increase the national herd, coupled with the abolition of milk quotas in April 2015, has led many farmers to take out large loans to invest in their respective enterprises;

— according to the latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) data, the number of dairy cows in Ireland today stands at 1.63 million, showing a rise of approximately 40 per cent over the last decade;

— Ireland’s total cattle number, as per CSO data, is approximately 7.4 million;

— the conflicting messaging from successive Governments over the last decade, first promoting expansion and now advocating a reduction or culling of the national cow population, has been disingenuous, misleading, and unfair to farmers and rural communities dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods;

— the current Government has made a complete U-turn in its policy by prioritising “green activist policies” that run counter to supporting farmers, agriculture, and rural communities, according to recent media reporting on internal Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine documents;

— the documents recommend the culling of 65,000 cows over the next three years, to meet emission reduction targets set by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party;

— this recommendation, if implemented, could potentially force many farmers out of business, undermine food production, food security, and lead to increased food prices for all consumers;

— further evidence of the Government’s lack of support for the dairy sector is the establishment of a special working group or task force within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, explicitly examining the feasibility of a dairy cow cull;

— the establishment of this committee, with its stated objectives of implementing a dairy cow cull, clearly demonstrates that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, and the Government have turned their backs on farmers and are now actively pursuing a national cull of Irish dairy cows; and

— the Government’s push to reduce the national herd, despite farmers accumulating high levels of debt to ramp up production, represents a glaring betrayal of Irish agriculture in favour of meeting climate change targets that will do little or nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions;

further notes that:

— the Government’s target of cutting agricultural emissions by 25 per cent by 2030 is overly burdensome and unachievable, posing a threat of financial unviability or bankruptcy for many otherwise viable farms;

— the Government’s calculations on reducing emissions in agriculture fail to consider the potential for carbon sequestration or the use of new technology to mitigate emissions and maintain the national herd;

— under the current Government, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, in conjunction with the Green Party, are scapegoating rural Ireland and forcing farmers to cull their herds, either directly or through covert means;

— the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine estimates that culling 200,000 dairy cows would cost the taxpayer approximately €200 million;

— new analysis by the Irish Farmers Journal estimates that culling 200,000 dairy cows would result in an additional processing cost of approximately €39 million under a herd reduction scheme;

— the Irish Farmers Journal also estimates that those farm families remaining in milk production would face increased processing costs of €2,500 per year, or €25,000 per decade; and

— cutting Ireland’s dairy output by around one billion litres, or 11 per cent of capacity, would have a major negative impact on the entire rural economy, leading to job losses and the loss of hundreds of millions of euros in revenue each year, further compromising already vulnerable rural communities; and

calls on the Government to:

— categorically, once and for all, declare that they will not pursue a compulsory or voluntary cull of the national herd, with no introduction of any caps on Irish dairy cow or beef numbers;

— review the process of calculating methane emissions, considering the cycle effect, and provide funding to farmers for implementing greater efficiencies, embracing new technologies, and any other measures as an alternative plan to reducing the national herd;

— undertake an independent comprehensive financial impact assessment of reducing the national dairy herd, considering the impact on each farmer, the rural economy, and broken down to show the potential negative financial consequences for each county;

— cease their climate attack on Irish farm families, who are the backbone of the agri-food sector, to prevent future generations from being driven out of the sector and compromising the sustainability of rural communities;

— instruct the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to publicly announce a pause on discussions or considerations of a dairy or beef sector cull until a full financial impact assessment has been published, considering the views of all affected farmers;

— ensure the prompt payment, without further delay, of the €28 million approved under the beef welfare scheme as part of Budget 2023, to suckler farmers;

— extend the current nitrates derogation for Irish farmers until at least 2030, and submit a compelling case to the European Commission in support of this proposal;

— explicitly state that there will be no capping of cow numbers through tighter water quality controls and changes to the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC); and

— explicitly state that there will be no capping of cow, sheep or pig numbers through a backdoor approach by stealth, linked to the Basic Income Support for Sustainability Scheme, or any other agricultural payment type.

I thank Brian Ó Domhnaill and Mairéad McGrath for putting this motion together with our Rural Independent Group. The motion is a clear-cut one. To every politician here in Dáil Éireann and also to every Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillor who will be knocking on the door of every rural farmer and every urban dweller as well – the doors of those people who depend on having top-quality Irish milk and meat, which Ireland has delivered up to now – we say that if the Government will not clearly support this motion, then let no farmer out there be in any doubt that these politicians or their parties have either destroyed or will destroy their farm income or cause the cessation of many viable and well-run farms.

This motion is extremely clear. We in the Rural Independent Group call on Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party Government to categorically and once and for all declare that it will not pursue a compulsory or voluntary cull of the national herd and that there will be no introduction of any caps on any Irish cows or beef numbers. Our motion also calls for a review of the process to calculate methane emissions that will consider the cycle effect and the provision of funding to farmers to implement greater efficiency and embrace new technology and other means as an alternative plan to reducing the national herd.

Our motion calls for the Minister to undertake an independent and comprehensive financial impact assessment of reducing the national dairy herd that will consider the impact on each farmer and the rural economy and produce a breakdown to show the negative financial consequences for each county. Our motion calls on the Government to cease its continuous attack on Irish farm families, who are the backbone of the agrifood sector, in order to prevent future generations from being driven out of this sector and compromising the sustainability of rural communities.

Most importantly, this motion will show whether Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are with the farmers. We make clear in the motion that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, must publicly announce a pause on discussions or considerations of a dairy or beef sector cull until a full financial impact assessment has been published that will consider the views of all affected farmers. Our motion also calls for the prompt payment of the €28 million-approved beef welfare scheme as part of the budget 2023 as promised. Equally importantly, our motion calls for the extension of the current nitrates derogation for Irish farmers until 2030 and the submission of a compelling case to the European Commission in support of this proposal.

I have clearly outlined our motion to the Minister. Anything less than 100% support for it by the Government will make it clear to every dairy and beef farmer that the writing is on the wall. Farm organisations, like the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, and others have told us of the crisis that would hit their members if the Government goes ahead with its mad targets. Farmers have told us the damage the Government will do to the environmentally friendly farms across the length and breadth of this country. I was recently asked to and did visit what I would call a modest farm. It was not in my constituency but it was in County Cork. This married farmer with young children is working a meticulously run farm. He has 78 or 79 cows and works his farm to perfection. If the Government’s plan goes ahead, this farmer said he will have to cut down his herd to 65 cows for a farm that has the potential to expand. This means wipeout for this farmer. I reiterate what this man said, which is that he will face closure.

The anger with the Government of all the farmers who attended that day was palpable. What they said publicly was that the Government was treating them like environmental terrorists. I spoke to another farmer, one of many, who wanted to build a new milking parlour recently. He rang to tell me that his grant application had been approved and that he had obtained a loan from the bank. He asked me if his farm would be allowed to expand. After I explained what we were hearing coming from the Government, he said he would pull the plug on his plans the following morning because it would not be possible to invest in something when he did not know what the future holds.

The best we are hearing from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians is to hang on until the budget. It looks to me that there will be a short-term sweetener, perhaps something like a decommissioning fishing deal, thrown at the farmers so they will get rid of cows. This will be a sweetener that will, like always, have strings attached, basically amounting to getting rid of farmers. Culling cows is not the solution. Intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the Government’s relentless attack on farmers and their livelihoods, coupled with its plan to reduce the number of cattle, will only result in more imported meat flooding the market. It is disheartening to see that beef imports into Ireland are rising, with 54,000 tonnes, valued at €183 million, having been imported in 2022. This was a 17% increase on the previous year. These figures show everything we have said about the way agriculture is run here is true.

Even in the first three months of this year, 14,119 tonnes of beef have been imported. This surpasses the record levels of imported beef seen in 2022. The Government insists that Ireland needs to reduce its cow population in order to meet climate change commitments. This cull is based on the climate action legislation, which mandates a 25% reduction in emissions from Irish agriculture by 2030. Comparatively, France’s agricultural sector is only required to reduce emissions by 20%. In Germany, where the Green Party is in power, the farmers are expected to reduce emissions by 17% over the same period. This all reminds me of the fisheries deal done by the Government in the context of Brexit. Basically, we gave the most and this came at great expense to our fishing sector, which has other European countries simply laughing at us.

It is evident that the Government is unfairly burdening Irish farmers far more than any other EU country. The Rural Independent Group was the only group to oppose the vote on climate action legislation in 2021, warning of the catastrophic consequences it would have for farmers and rural communities. Sadly, our warnings were dismissed as scaremongering, but now we are witnessing the devastating effects as the Government’s assault on productive agriculture is gaining speed and unfolding. The treatment of our farmers by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party is cruel and deceitful. They punish farmers while turning a blind eye to the tech giants, allowing them to expand their data centres and operate without any restraints. It is deeply concerning that all three major political parties, along with the numerous left-wing Deputies, are willing to jeopardise our sustainable farming model and compromise our food sovereignty under the guise of combating climate change or attempting to manipulate the weather.

This short-sighted approach not only undermines the hard work and dedication of our farmers but also poses a significant threat to the long-term viability of our agricultural sector. It is imperative that we prioritise informed decision-making and consider the broader consequences of our actions before hastily sacrificing the very foundations of our agricultural heritage. The recent decision by the Minister to establish a cow cull committee in his Department, with the intention of culling hundreds of thousands of dairy cows in the name of climate change, has sparked widespread concern and condemnation. Farmers, rural communities and even media outlets from across the globe, including countries such as India, Canada, the US, Australia, Mexico, the UK, France and Germany, among others, have expressed incredulity at such a policy proposal.

In fact, I was flicking through television channels the other night and the presenters on an American channel were in stitches at what Ireland is proposing to do. The Government is against its own farmers. The presenters to whom I refer could not understand it. They were in stitches laughing. Many experts argue that the culling of Irish dairy cows will have no impact whatsoever on global greenhouse gas emissions but will pose significant risks to farmers’ livelihoods and rural communities. The call to reconsider these Government policies has grown louder as other countries increase their cow herds and thereby undermining any potential global benefits. It is increasingly evident that such measures urgently need to be shelved and halted immediately. The Minister and the Government may try to disguise the cow cull as a voluntary reduction in Ireland’s cow numbers, but the truth is that any decrease in the cow population will have severe and lasting negative consequences for rural communities.

We only need to look at the example of the fishing industry, which has been devastated by the so-called voluntary exit schemes over the past decade. These have torn apart the fabric of coastal towns and villages. The Minister has a track record of shutting down viable operations, as evidenced by his covert dismantling of the fishing sector. It is difficult to trust a Minister when he offers empty and deceptive words regarding the cow cull and all in an effort to retain power and appease the Green Party. It was stated on the front page of last week’s Irish Farmers Journal that the cow cull plan could cost dairy farmers €2,500 annually. New analysis, it was also stated, puts the farm-level costs of a herd reduction scheme at around €39 million. This figure does not include the downstream effect on the rural economy of reducing Ireland’s dairy output, which could be multiples of €39 million.

Culling cows from the dairy and beef sectors will have devastating consequences for so many farmers who are deep in debt now. I see farmers frantically buying land and putting themselves deeper into debt. They are doing this to try to stay ahead of the horrendous changes being forced on them and, sadly, for many, not knowing the future as they wait to hear the next daft notion the Green Party has had, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in agreement.

It is time to come clean to the farmers, who are the very people the Minister is meant to represent. Is he going to continue to force Irish farmers into the mad, erratic cuts the Government has set or will he step out of the daft trance he is in and stand by his constituents, his neighbours and his friends to force a positive future for Irish farmers and stop pointing the finger by treating them like environmental terrorists?

Debate adjourned.

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