Speaking about the deepening crisis in the beef sector, Green Party Spokesperson on Agriculture, Co. Offaly suckler farmer Pippa Hackett, said: “I am in no doubt that this crisis is the result of decades of poor agri-food policy. Farmers have been both advised and subsidised into producing commodity beef for a global market, which now sees us competing in a sector that pays €3.50/kg for their beef. This is simply not sustainable for our family farmers, and they have been left abandoned.
“Consolidation of the meat and offal processing sectors over the past few decades, and the demise of local abattoirs, has left our farmers with few market options for their produce, leaving them at the mercy of a global market price. It is becoming ever clearer that the current model neither works for our farmers, nor for our environment.
“The Green Party has been proposing an alternative model of food production in Ireland for many years; a model which positions our tens of thousands of family farms at the centre of policy, as opposed to a handful of corporate agri-businesses.
“Unfortunately, all the protests, lobbying, and discussions have not been able to change the beef price – in fact, it has fallen further. Farmers are hurting, yet everyone else continues to make money off their backs. So it’s time for farmers to take control, and taking a different approach to the production costs inside the farm gate is one major aspect farmers can control. If we don’t spend it, then we don’t have to earn it, and for an already unprofitable sector, what’s there to lose? If we keep doing the same thing, over and over again, how can we expect a different result?
“Most farmers are supported to some extent through their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments, so adopting a ‘zero-import’ approach to their farms may see a sizable difference in next year’s profits. Despite what our farmers have been advised for decades, it is possible to grow grass without the application of expensive, environmentally damaging synthetic fertilisers and pesticides; and many native breeds of cattle can be produced and finished, without the need for imported GM grains. Farmers may even see support growing from other agri-businesses when they too feel the pain of these low beef prices.
“Until government policy moves agricultural production towards a model which promotes lower input, nature-friendly farming (supporting biodiversity and habitats, improving water and air quality, building soil carbon, and advancing animal welfare), and produces a superior product commanding a higher price, then farmers should cut their cloth to fit. With a new CAP on the horizon, it is vital that new payments provide farmers with the opportunities they need to secure the futures of their family farms. Throwing good money after bad is no longer an option to solve the now deep-seated problems in the Irish beef sector.”
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