The EU can’t control the weather, but it can fix farmgate prices

Ophelia has come and gone, leaving a trail of weather-related destruction in her wake.

Farmers are continuously told that they must act to take greater control over those aspects of their businesses, which they have direct influence over.

Unfortunately, the weather is not one of these factors. Yet it remains the variable which has the greatest degree of direct influence on the performance achieved by most farming businesses, not just here, but in every part of the world.

If it’s not floods and storms in Ireland, it’s droughts in places like the United States that catch the eye of the media and the public at large.

Despite all the progress that has been made in developing technological solutions for production agriculture, the vast majority of Irish farmers find themselves confronting the elements every day of the year. It really is an unrelenting task.

For their part, consumers seem to care little about the challenges which farmers face on a day-to-day basis.

All they are interested in is securing access to high-quality food products at the right price. A number of the speakers at a recent EU-hosted conference in Dublin highlighted the relatively low cost of food now compared with the situation that prevailed even a generation ago.

Back 50 years ago, consumers dedicated almost half of their weekly wage to the procurement of food; the equivalent figure today is just over 10%. And, no doubt, the quality of the food available now is light years ahead of what was available in the past.

Farmers must be paid a living wage for the work they undertake on behalf of everyone else in society.

The stark reality is that the level of subsidy available to agriculture is fast declining. The share of the EU budget directed at farming has been falling for the past 20 years.

This reflects Brussels’ commitment to fund and support projects that improve transport, education and Europe’s infrastructure as a whole. Throw in the fact that the EU’s overall budget was cut by 7% a number of years ago, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that farming is no longer Europe’s number one support priority.

Brexit is coming. But will this make any great change to the way the Irish farming industry is treated by Brussels? Somehow, I doubt it.

In a perfect world, farmers should be receiving more by way of prices to make up for the current shortfall in support. But this is not happening. In fact, farmgate returns continue to fall throughout Europe. And this is the real disconnect which EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan must address head-on as he strives to secure a sustainable future for Europe’s farming industry.