COMMENT: Farmers have every right to ask for a bigger slice of Ireland’s more than significant food retail cake. And, by the way, this does not mean that local consumers should have to pay more for the food they are buying in the shops. What it does mean, however, is that the supermarkets should be challenged more on the profits they make from food sales!

But there is good news at the end of this dark tunnel. Despite the ‘so-called’ credit crunch and all the talk of food inflation, recent market research has confirmed a local consumer preference for the food produced here in Ireland. Not alone does it give tangible support to the view that the agri-food sector is held in high esteem but it also gives valuable insights into how the industry can build on this good will for the future.

And for this to happen it is crucial that farming continues to put its best foot forward by communicating to local consumers why they are getting value for money.

There’s no doubt the public is prepared to pay that little bit extra if they feel they are buying a superior product. The last 10-years have seen food become a major news issue, and sometimes for all the wrong reasons. However, there is a silver lining to all of this and it comes in the form of an ever expanding media that is ‘hungry’ to pick up on stories which highlight the various aspects of the way in which our food is produced.

And in this context Ireland has nothing to fear. In fact the opposite is very much the case. We enjoy possibly the highest production, animal welfare, traceability and processing standards in the world. So why not let consumers know about this. Agriculture has nothing to hide. Let’s get away from a fortress farming approach and open our doors fully to the press and media at large.

More transparency is required when it comes to determining what price a consumer pays for a particular product and how this relates back down the various stages of the food processing and production chain.

No one is saying that supermarkets can’t add on a reasonable margin. Every business is in existence to make a profit. But the same principle must also hold for the primary producer.

Farmers by their very nature are weak sellers. And this will always be the case for as long as the general public want to see a countryside that is built around a ‘family farm’ ethos. So it is for this reason that a special case can be made for agriculture when it comes to determining how the multi-national food retailing corporations deal with the industry.

The supermarkets know full well that many farmers consider them with a fair degree of suspicion. But at the end of the day the issue is pretty black and white. If the retailers want to have a viable farming and food sector on their doorstep then the onus is on them to provide a transparent and level playing field for everyone to play on!