“A new generation is important to bring a new approach to farming.” This is according to Minister Simon Coveney who was speaking last night at the launch of Macra na Feirme‘s National Conference in Carlow.
Speaking before Ireland’s largest-ever trade mission to the Gulf region in the coming days, the minister emphasised the importance of these markets. “For example Saudi Arabia imported €105m last year, of which €95m were dairy products. And UAE imported €36m, €26m of which dairy.”
He stressed the importance of knowing what a market wants. “In the past farmers assumed the larger the more muscular the animal the better. Now this is not the case. Many markets are looking for animals that can be processed into restaurant-sized steaks and the sort of cuts the housewife wants in the supermarket.”
The minister praised Macra for playing “a leading role” in lobbying by young farmers across Europe in the negotiations of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) Reform.”Only in the last hour of the last negotiations on CAP that there was an agreement reached on positive discrimination in favour of young farmers. This would not have happened without lobbying,” he revealed.
The minister outlined some of the new measures in CAP. “It is the first time that there is a requirement on farmers to meet certain benchmarks. If they don’t, payments will be reduced by 30 per cent. Large chunk of direct payments won’t be handed over if farmers don’t meet the benchmarks.”
He said these benchmarks, in particular the environmental impacts, “are very manageable, particularly in Ireland.”
“The vast majority of Irish farmers will have no problem meeting benchmarking,” he assured the audience.
In terms of the new CAP, he said the policy is generational change. “We are positively discriminating in favour of young framers under the age of 40.
“It will bring about the conversation around the dinner table in farming families across the country. Are we better off handing over the reins now to maximise income coming into the family? Once you change ownership you change the power in terms of decision making.”
The minister said that young farmers in Ireland will increase farm productivity, efficiency and profit. “Our young people, young farmers are well-educated, smart and have an appetite for taking risks. They bring expertise that have learned in agriculture college or university, combined with experience and mentoring of parents. This will increase productivity, efficiency, increase profit on Irish farms.”
Responding to calls for the reintroduction of the installation grant, Minister Coveney said a decision on this will be made within the next month. The minister also noted that Irish farmers need to move away from the protection of CAP.
“You may think as farmers that’s a bad thing but it’s not. Trust me it’s not. We have in the past created an artificial market, created and inflated artificial demand for products. We now need to create demand. We need to operate on a global scale and not operate behind some kind of ‘glass wall’. This is a good thing of Ireland. We are already used to fighting abroad for market share.”
He said that Ireland can grow and expand markets throughout Europe, particularly in terms of meat products, and explore and grow dairy and seafood products in particular outside the EU.
“A move towards a market-orientated growth model is a good thing from an Irish perspective,” he added.
The minister also spoke on leasing land which is key to growth. “Agriculture land is at a premium because it is never sold, therefore price is inflated. The average piece of agricultural land is sold outside the family once every 400 years in Ireland, compared to once very 70 years in France.
“We are removing barriers to older farmers, in terms of capital gain tax and so on to allow them to pass on ownership.”
Regarding the new Beef Genomics Scheme announced in Budget 2014, the minister stressed, he is not in the business of “dishing out money”. “Payments will be an investment not a payout. Farmers will be asked to take DNA samples from their animals so that we can be the first country on the planet to have a national DNA database of our beef herd that will enable us to match traits, when a calf is born we can predict how a calf will perform.”
He said genomics, data transfer and sexed semen will transfer profitability of beef and dairy herds in Ireland. “There are new opportunities and new challenges head. I am not sure older generations understand to same extent you do. For example, biodiversity and climate change. This generation is going to have to face whether you like it or not. I don’t mean to be ageist but in my view it is people like you that understand the opportunities in that type of technology perhaps more than your parents or grandparents.”
The minister is currently leading a week-long trade mission to the Gulf States of Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.