ICMSA Pat McCormack JANUARY 2020 www.irishfarmersmonthly.com RTE’s almonds idea is absolutely nuts! Judging by the media coverage and, more importantly, from the reaction of members who attended, our AGM, held on November 29, was a resounding success and I’d like to thank especially An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Minister Creed, RTE’s Philip Boucher-Hayes, Farming Independent’s Martin Coughlan. Glanbia Beef’s Martin Ryan, Teagasc’s Laura Boyle and Conor Geraghty, Veterinary Ireland and Joe Burke of Bord Bia, all of whom gave of their time and brought their expertise and experience to bear on the range of issues we chose to highlight. I am especially proud of the panel discussion we had on the subject of ‘Social Licence and Calf Welfare’ where we looked at the various issues around this question, always with the welfare of the calves at the centre of the discussion. It is to be greatly regretted that some loose contributions from the floor were seized upon by the media and magnified out of all proportion to either their occurrence or the contempt with which ICMSA and the vast, vast majority of farmers regard these practices. This kind of diversion is always a risk when the floor is thrown open to members, but it is in the greatest traditions of our association that members are encouraged to ‘speak up and speak out’ and if it is a choice between the kind of micro-managed and carefully edited conferences that are now the norm, or the kind of meetings we have always had, then I will always, go with the latter. Members will appreciate that the context around farming is now changing at an almost bewildering speed. It is almost impossible to keep up with the next development or work out where the next challenge is coming from and how best to respond. But nevertheless it is possible, just about, to discern wider trends beginning to emerge from the general confusion. One of these general trends that is coming forward is the conviction that the ‘high volume-low margin’ system effectively forced backwards from the corporate retailers and operated by them to their own benefit is coming to and end. I suspect that the average consumer somehow is under the impression that all the changes involved in transitioning farming and food production to the new climate reality will be happening from the supermarket fridges backwards to the farmer and that very little – and certainly not price – will be changing for them (the consumers). They are in for the proverbial rude shock. That the changes involved are going to impact on the consumers who, for the first time in probably three decades, will increasingly be asked to pay the real cost of their food Pat McCormack was confirmed by RTE’s Philip Boucher-Hayes, who gave a very informed and informing presentation to the AGM on the exact question of ‘Whether the era of cheap food is over?’ Mr Boucher-Hayes is one of the very few journalists who is not afraid to tell the general public something they most assuredly do not wish to hear: they have been underpaying for their food for 25-odd years and it is no longer feasible to expect food to be produced to the highest quality in the most sustainable way without paying the proper cost of that food. To that extent, he was welcomed by ICMSA and we will listen with respect to his analysis and opinions. But, there are decidedly less stringent standards applied by some of his colleagues at RTE and, with that in mind, I was happy to point out the blatant errors made by those colleagues involved in the recent broadcasting of ‘What Planet Are You On?’ programme shown as part of our national channel’s Climate Week schedule. In this particular programme, a family in Finglas were urged to cease using Irish milk and switch instead to a brand of nut juice, all in the interests of lowering the family’s carbon emissions. Even overlooking the nonsense of telling a family in Dublin to cease consuming milk that might have come from a dairy farm five miles away and switch to a nut juice that is produced from crops of almonds grown in California without factoring in the emissions involved in that journey, milk produced off our grass beats the almond juice on every measure of sustainability. And yet this bizarre suggestion was trotted out by an ‘expert’ and left unquestioned until farm organisations like ICMSA were able to rebut the nonsensical proposals made in what was, after all, a programme broadcast on our national broadcaster supported by the taxpayers through Government funding. This can’t happen and it must not happen again. This debate can only proceed on the basis of facts and no-one is entitled to play fast and loose with what they present as facts. 20