Our agricultural strategy needs a radical overhaul – we need to ask ourselves who benefits from maintaining the status quo

For Irish agriculture, the repercussions of the war in Ukraine provide further evidence that our government is ready to redouble its efforts on a failing strategy published in 2010.

he Ministry of Agriculture has set up a fodder safety committee, but will not address any of the systemic issues that are causing farmers to take more risk, go into debt and stress and not get a adequate price for what they produce.

Over the past decade, there has been a 40% increase in the number of dairy cows. It was founded on a history that we have the best conditions for growing weed, and that gives us a natural competitive advantage.

Why then have there been several fodder crises in recent years due to extreme cold in the spring and drought in the summer? Does anyone remember the term “feed crisis” ever being used in the 1980s and 1990s?

Although a warming climate has led to an increase in the number of grass growing days in Ireland, this is not a basis on which to increase stocking rates. There is significant variability in grass growing conditions from year to year.

In the coming years, the frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions will increase. Maintaining existing stocking rates on farms will require greater intervention with supplemental feeding during the grazing season.

The reality is that the Irish agrifood system is now very fragile and an unfair part of the economic risk is borne by Irish farmers.

Current events in Ukraine and the climate crises of recent years show that our approach is not sustainable. Our model relies on animal feed and fertilizer imported from Eastern Europe and the United States to produce protein, the majority of which is exported to Asia and the United States.

As an island on the periphery of Europe, we will always pay above the odds for fuel and fertiliser, and our new distant markets, including China, are vulnerable to disruption.

In the years to come, the interconnected risks related to geopolitics, supply chain and changing food preferences will be compounded by climate change.

If you want to know who benefits from maintaining the status quo, just follow the money. They are not and will not be Irish farmers.

Irish strategy in the food industry is dominated by the needs of large food companies.

There is a problem with how agricultural research in this country is produced and how that research informs agricultural policy and, ultimately, agricultural decisions.

Funding for dairy expansion over the past decade has been encouraged by a banking industry that needed to build a new loan portfolio in the post financial crash era.

It is problematic that banks share multiple platforms with Teagasc, blurring the communication of research with loan promotion.

Farmers’ communication channels are dominated by advertisements from the companies that have the most to gain from maintaining the status quo.

So what is the alternative? What could a non-fragile food production system look like in Ireland?

Emphasis should be placed on operational flexibility rather than maximizing production for export markets.

At the farm level, farmers should focus on reducing the risk of their operations – this means minimizing debt, dramatically reducing stocking rates and the use of inputs such as fuel, fertilizer and animal feed. animals.

This is easier said than done without other sustainable sources of income, and this is where the research effort and resources must be committed.

Creating new sources of income for farmers from plant proteins and other crops must be at the center of government policies and research funding.

Investment in plant and soil science research must be scaled up and linked to new sustainable business models that offer farmers a greater share of the revenue from their production.

This should be demanded by farmers’ representative groups so that Irish farmers and our rural communities can plan and hope for a progressive future.

It will be a vaccine against the familiar sight of politicians reacting to the next crisis by proclaiming that “no one saw this coming”.

Dr. John Garvey is a senior lecturer in risk and finance at UL. Albert Cousin is studying for an MSc in Business Analytics at UL

About Keneth T. Graves

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