‘It’s time for total transparency from field to fork’

COMMENT: I sense that sales of sunglasses went through the roof a few weeks ago given the number of food industry representatives that ended up in Dubai, linking up with the official visit recently paid by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to that part of the world.

And in case you might be thinking that what follows constitutes a rant from a spite-filled media representative who did not get an invite to the ‘big party’ in the sun, let me immediately confirm that you are right – well at least in part.

Don’t get me wrong- I think it is absolutely critical that Irish Government ministers and food industry representatives should visit every part of the globe, espousing the values of Irish food.  But it is equally important that farmers – who actually underwrite this activity – should be told in much more detail about the benefits that will accrue to them, in the context of future farmgate returns.

Many people will quickly point out that we live in a world in which the term ‘information overload’ is appropriate, given our modern lifestyles. This may be true for most walks of life, however, agriculture is – most certainly – the exception that proves the rule. Within our sector, it seems information is made available on a need-to-know basis only – with many of those industries either buying from or supplying to primary producers seemingly operating on the basis that farmers rarely need to know.

Let me throw out a few examples. Beef and sheep prices go up and down in this country like yo-yos. Invariably, these changes take effect at very short notice, which hardly suits those farmers who have livestock on three month – and longer – feeding programmes.  The latest twist to take effect within the beef market is the soon-to-be introduced penalties on young bulls. No doubt the plants will blame the supermarkets for this one, leaving farmers to get on with the job in hand.

The other side of the equation sees farmers grappling with their input costs. Speak to Teagasc advisors, bank representatives or any private consulting  advising farmers on the challenges that lie ahead and they will rank mark volatility on the world’s commodity markets amongst their top three areas of concern. And, yet, those businesses which supply all of the core inputs required by farmers always seem more than reticent to discuss future price trends, even within the timescale of a few short weeks.

All the farming organisations quite rightly point to the lack of transparency demonstrated by the supermarkets and the effect this has on the balance of the agri food supply chain. The reality is that all the sectors feeding into our multibillion farming industry could be a little bit more forthcoming with the information they make available to primary producers!

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