The prospects for Irish agriculture, especially tillage farmers, the suckler sector and young farmers are looking very positive in the medium-term, according to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.

In a comprehensive sit-down interview with Agriland this week, he said:

“Dairy, beef and other commodity prices are relatively strong at the present time. And this very welcome trend is likely to be maintained for the foreseeable future.

“This is a very positive scenario for Irish farmers, as it reduces their reliance on supports, from the point of view of generating a livelihood.”    

Tillage farmers

Turning to the specific needs of tillage farmers, the minister confirmed that he was mindful of the recommendations for the sector contained with a recent Oireachtas report.

He continued: “The new CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] measures will provide additional opportunities to develop policies that meet the specific needs of the tillage sector.

“And I look forward to discussing these matters with all the relevant stakeholder bodies.”

McConalogue also highlighted a number of the specific measures that he has introduced to improve the sustainability of tillage farmers. These include the Straw Incorporation Scheme.

He commented: “This measure is delivering up to €4,000 per farm.  We know that straw incorporation acts to improve soil health while also capturing carbon.”

Minister McConlalogue stressed that the scheme is not interfering with the normal operation of the straw market in Ireland.

Suckler sector

Where sucklers are concerned, the minister would not commit to schemes that ring-fenced cow numbers.

He explained: “Suckler beef is a critically important component of the Irish economy. And this must be maintained. The key challenge that confronts this sector is that of maintaining suckler farm incomes.

“I am committed to ensuring that this issue will be addressed. And the new CAP measures will give me the scope to make this a reality.”

Minister McConalogue also referred to the significant number of Irish suckle producers who have made the successful transition to dairy.

He also believes that 24-month, calf-to-beef systems will be very important contributor to the livestock economy as a whole over the coming years.

Young farmers

Turning to the needs of the young farmers, he confirmed that a higher proportion of the CAP budget will be dedicated to meeting their needs during the period ahead.

“Previously 2% of the CAP budget was allocated to young farmer schemes. Looking ahead, this figure will increase to 3%,” the minister said.

“I look forward to meeting with representatives from Macra na Feirme in order to discuss how young farmer support measures can be adapted to best meet future needs.”

McConalogue made specific reference to the significant and beneficial impact made by the Land Mobility Programme over recent years.

He further explained: “The need to ensure a viable future for young people wanting to follow a career in agriculture is obvious.”

Brexit impact on agriculture

Referring to the impact of Brexit on Irish agriculture, Minister McConalogue said that the industry is adapting well to changing circumstances.

“Yes, there have been some market disturbances. But these are minor, compared to what would have been the state-of-affairs had the UK and the EU not agreed a free trade deal (FTA),” McConalogue said. 

However complacency is far from the minister’s mind, where Brexit is concerned.

He concluded: “The UK’s ability and willingness to secure trade deals with countries around the word exposes Irish farming and food to significant risk.

“The impact of the recently completed UK-Australia trade deal is not having that large of an impact on our farming and food sectors at the present time. This is because Australia is restocking after a period of significant drought.

“But these circumstances will change with the passing of time. And, of course, there is a continuing need to secure new export markets for Irish food products.”