2018 ‘a defining year’ as IFA draws battle-lines for challenges ahead

Brexit, unfair price share, Mercosur, CAP reform and climate change have been earmarked as key challenges over the coming year by Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy.

“2018 will be a defining year for farming,” the president said in his opening address at today’s 63rd IFA Annual General Meeting at the Irish Farm Centre in Dublin today.

“Never before have such major challenges as Brexit, the CAP Budget, Mercosur and climate change converged in a single year. IFA will be there to represent the interests of all farmers,” Healy assured.

Brexit

Beginning with the departure of the UK from the European Union in 14 months, Healy warned: “Brexit remains the most serious threat to Irish farming and our agri-food sector for half a century.”

The president acknowledged the work done by the Irish government before and during the last round of negotiations in December, describing the work done as “setting a foundation stone for the next phase, which will be very important for our sector”.

Healy highlighted the retention of free trade in agriculture and food products between the EU and UK as a priority for Comissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan.

He also stressed that a scenario where the UK government can do as they please as regards agricultural trade with third countries must not be allowed.

If the UK wants continued access to the EU market, the EU must insist that the UK will not be free to open their markets to low-standard or low-value products from outside the EU.

The commitment to continued regulatory alignment is a good start, the IFA leader said, but noted that a crucial stage of the negotiations was now being entered where the future trading arrangements will be decided.

CAP post-2020

Regarding the Common Agricultural Policy, Healy noted that a strong CAP budget is vital, adding: “We cannot have a situation where EU farmers have their incomes cut because the UK decided to leave.

“Some of our EU leaders have articulated ambitious plans for new EU programmes. CAP cannot become the fall guy for any new initiatives.”

Healy stressed that CAP has been essential for Ireland, and especially rural Ireland, for the sustainability of beef, sheep and tillage farmers in particular.

He continued: “We must also remember that the CAP has delivered hugely for EU consumers. It has also delivered significant environmental and social benefits for the entire community.

Climate change

Healy noted the policy shift in focus to climate change and sustainability, referencing the important work Irish farmers have already done.

He noted the  3.5% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from Irish agriculture since 1990, and the success of the Smart Farming initiative, boosting profit by €8,700 while cutting emissions by 10% on participant farms.

However, Mercosur talks are still taking place, Healy said, noting: “What is incredibly frustrating for farmers is to hear so much emphasis on climate issues by key European politicians, while at the same time they are proposing to give Mercosur countries, including Brazil, more access to the European market.

Producing a kilo of beef in Brazil leaves four times the carbon footprint of a kilo of beef produced in Ireland. Therefore, cutting our beef output to allow Brazil increase theirs, is reckless and makes no sense.

Price share

Healy said it is clear that farmers are not getting a fair share of the retail price, backing this statement with the stats: “The retailer takes 51% of the final price, the processor gets 28%, but the farmer only gets 21%.

Describing retailers as “modern-day dictators, abusing their power to accumulate vast profits”, Healy said: “It’s all about accumulating profits at the expense of farmers and primary producers, and ultimately consumers.

“The recent CAP consultation process showed that 97% of EU consumers are in favour of the farmer getting a better share of the retail price. Commissioner Hogan has done good work in this area. But we need to see more.

We will press the new Minister for Business, Heather Humphreys, on the appointment of an independent retail ombudsman and a ban on below-cost selling.

Referencing the IFA’s recent Fairness for Farmers, Honesty for Consumers’ Christmas campaign, Healy condemned the “aggressive and unsustainable discounting and misleading labelling by some retailers”.

“This has a direct hit on farmers’ livelihoods,” Healy said, adding that the recent campaign was a preview of the IFA Ethical Framework for retailers, which will be launched in the coming months.

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