Opinion

Phil Hogan must deliver greater transparency within the EU food chain

EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan says that he is committed to introducing measures which will ensure greater transparency within Europe’s agri-food chain.

One assumes that the ultimate outcome of these efforts will be the delivery of more realistic farm-gate prices.

So, here’s a thought: All the staple food items are cheaper now, in real terms, than they were a generation ago.

It’s also worth remembering that the amount of aid available to agriculture, courtesy of the Basic Payment Scheme, is reducing every year.

The need for a clear message

There are no annual inflationary safeguards built into the system. And who knows what position we will be in once the next review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is completed, where farm support measures are concerned.

All these statistics serve to highlight the need for our farming industry to get a strong and clear message across to consumers.

At the very least this process will confirm the need for a proper and constructive debate on the way our food is now produced; Phil Hogan must take the lead in this regard.

Fair prices

Farmers cannot be expected to work for nothing; they must be allowed to cover their costs, pay themselves a relevant wage and invest for the future.

There is a clear and strategic need for the maintenance of a strong indigenous farming industry here in Ireland. It’s also a fact that the days of cheap food are over.

Production costs have increased dramatically on many farms during the last 12 months alone.

This development has not been reflected in the shops throughout Europe, which means that farmers are taking most of the pain. Retailers and consumers must, therefore, be reminded in the strongest possible terms that producers can only take so much – but this only part of the problem.

Managing business costs

Livestock production, as a case in point, has become an extremely serious business.

Only those farmers who endeavour to improve their levels of efficiency will survive. It really is a case of ensuring that farmers can stand on their own two feet by optimising profit on the back of what the market can offer.

And simply worrying about the price of store cattle just won’t cut it in this context.

Farmers must be in a position to accurately identify the strengths and weaknesses of their own businesses when compared to enterprises of similar scale and production focus.

Only in this way can they quantify their costs and their farm performance accurately. This, in turn, establishes a foundation from which the agricultural industry can build a more efficient and profitable future.