Vital for economy of Midlands, North and West


With over 100,000 farmers in my constituency and with the accepted multiple of 3 jobs created off farm from their activities, agriculture and food is clearly the most important economic activity throughout the 15 counties involved.

To see just how much the structure of farming has changed over the years in the constituency of 15 counties is reflected in the fact that in 1915 there were just over 220,000 farmers working the land.  At that time whole families were involved whereas today off-farm employment for most is essential.

This inexorable reduction in the numbers of farmers and, indeed, the numbers employed on the land places critical focus on what the make-up of the next Common Agricultural Policy needs to be.  As for the current CAP, I believe that the most effective way of maintaining population and viability of rural areas is through maintaining the greatest possible number of family farms on the land.

This will require a CAP policy, post 2020, that recognises the value of maintaining the economic and social fabric of rural areas against the designs, in our country, of those who are continuously advocating that we are in a post rural era now and, increasingly, into the future.

As Connemara farmer Brendan O’Malley, said recently in a newspaper interview about the undermining of LEADER by government ‘the small farmers in the West will see their farms turned into Special Areas of Conservation unless there is a radical rethink by the authorities on the future of agriculture in the region’.

However unfortunately, it is not only the farmers of the West who will depend on a supportive CAP as the attrition in the reduction of viable full time farmers continues.  I, for one, am not content to take the line about focussing EU support solely on so called efficient full time farmers.  There is very little that could have been done to prevent the loss of over 141,000 farmers from the land since 1915 but the challenge to the EU now is to recognise the social value, as well as the economic, of Irish farming.

You will note my use of the terminology ‘social value’ which cuts no ice with many influencers in Ireland.  However I contend that farming has social and environmental values which will be increasingly important in the future as we quickly approach the stage where there will be no more than 10,000 dairy farmers in Ireland of the total 140,000 currently claiming under the Basic Payment Scheme.

As of now only dairy farming is delivering a living wage to the farmer.  However if there is no improvement in the situation where dairy farmers take a price from the processor, who takes a price from the retailer, every dairy farmer faces continuing viability problems.

Bearing in mind the fact that dairy farmers incomes are substantially better than non-dairy, the prospects for the majority of Irish farmers are not encouraging.  The European Parliament will have a significant influence on the fortunes of farmers in the challenging years ahead and, under budgetary pressures, will be increasingly demanding delivery of public goods to justify retention of a viable level of basic payments.

This will mean farmer lobby groups having to focus much more in the future on delivery of environmental and other public gains as well as pursuing their legitimate claim to a fair share of the fruits of the food chain.  Concurrently the EU faces a significant reduction in funding due to Brexit with associated pressure on the CAP budget.

The challenge we face as MEPs, representing a country which disproportionately depends on farming for its indigenous exports and its contribution to sustaining rural areas, is to persuade the Parliament to assert the need to support farming and food production as essential to food security for the citizens of all member states.

Worryingly the ‘White Paper on the Future of Europe’ currently out for consultation does not anywhere refer to food security and only very peripherally to farming.  Consumers rate little better with just three references.

So the challenge for farmers to be relevant in the next financial semester 2020-2027 is great and will demand great energy from all of us.  For me the key word, and ethos for the future EU, is fairness.  Fairness to all farmers and fairness to rural areas and real balanced regional development in the interests of the entire rural community including its towns and villages.  I urge all of you to participate in responding to the White Paper on the Future of Europe

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