Opinion

Now is the time to look forward

This is a challenging enough time for agriculture in Ireland. CAP reform is, once again, on the horizon as is the uncertainty surrounding the entire Brexit process.

But the only way of working through these issues is for everyone involved to put their shoulders to the wheel and start pushing.

Yes, the upcoming Brexit negotiations will be extremely important for local agriculture. But so is the need to project the right image of our most important industry.

There is no doubt that the great outdoors remains the most natural environment in which to keep ruminant livestock. Despite current fertiliser prices; grazed grass remains the cheapest form of feed for our cattle and sheep.

Dairy, beef cattle and sheep grazing contentedly in the fields sends out all the right messages to consumers about the way milk, beef and lamb are produced in Ireland.

It is our strongest marketing image and we must never lose sight of this fact.

Indeed, any steps that we can take as an industry to enhance this status in the eyes of consumers must be taken. It is interesting to note the way farmers in Scotland’s national parks are now using their newly gained status in order to essentially ‘brand’ their produce.

The purpose of this commentary is not to espouse the national park concept; but, rather highlight the public’s growing interest in food production practices.

There is now little doubt, that the average man and woman in the street, are prepared to pay that little bit extra for food which he or she believes has been produced under the highest possible welfare and environmental standards.

Many academics believe that it should be possible for the agri-food sector to increase its overall share of total consumer spending – provided farmers openly embrace the tenets of environmental protection and welfare friendly production practices.

But farmers must achieve this while, at the same time, striving to increase the output from their land. The most recent official estimates predict that the world’s population will increase by 50% over the next 25 years. And, its farmers who will be handed the job of feeding all these extra mouths.

The New Year is with us. Spring, one hopes, is not that far-off.  The upcoming season represents a time of fresh growth, symbolising nature’s commitment to make a new start every year.

Farmers are the custodians of the countryside. There is now little doubt that the key challenge lying ahead of them is that of maximising our land’s ability to produce food; while, at the same time, adding to its environmental heritage and conservation value.