Opinion

Italy can teach Ireland a thing or two

I recently met up with a group of ruminant nutritionists from Italy, who were on a fact-finding trip (jolly) to Ireland.

They informed me that dairy farmers in their country – producing milk that is subsequently made into Parmesan cheese – are receiving a price of €0.55/L. The group in question was in Ireland to see, at first hand, how we produce milk from grass.

For the record, Parmesan is a food with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under EU regulations. In essence this means that the cheese can only be made within a specified geographical area; the milk must come from cows fed and managed in prescribed ways and the cheese itself must be manufactured using traditional techniques only.

Fair enough; these criteria may put some additional costs into the production system. But €0.55/L is still a very decent price for milk.

On hearing these figures, I half expected to learn that only a relatively small number of dairy farmers get these returns. But no, the opposite is the case. It turns out that 1,400 dairy farmers work within the Parmesan scheme.

All of this set me to thinking about how we here in Ireland have so much more to learn about marketing the food that we produce more effectively.

Don’t get me wrong. Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme is helping to make a real difference for Irish food on international markets. But we have to build on this for the future.

And this must be done in ways that will deliver better farmgate prices.

Irish dairy farmers would give their arms and, no doubt, other parts of their anatomy to get anywhere near the return which their counterparts in northern Italy are enjoying at the present time.

Let’s face it; the amount of upfront support made available to farmers is set to decline.

And this would have happened irrespective of Brexit. The share of the EU budget dedicated to agriculture has fallen significantly over recent years.

This is a result of the new pressures on Brussels to deliver for the economies of those erstwhile members of the Eastern Bloc. The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU is merely hastening the process of diverting funds from production agriculture.

Under these circumstances, the only option for Ireland’s farming and food industries is to make commercial markets work more effectively for them. And this process must start now.

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