Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Security: Statements


4:35 pm

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)

We have a welcome opportunity today to discuss the issue of food security. Food production is important for our farmers, our fishers, our rural and coastal communities and wider society. It is important for me, my political party and the Government. You might need a doctor, lawyer, garda or priest once in your life, but three times a day every day, you need a farmer. We cannot take food security for granted or the vital role farmers play in the production of that food.

If the situation in Ukraine is to teach us anything, it is to highlight the complacency that has settled around Europe regarding what the European project was originally set up for, which is peace on the Continent of Europe. A key pillar of that peace is food security. That is the basis of CAP, which has been very successful down through the years in guaranteeing a stable supply of safe, nutrient-dense food that is produced to the highest standards in the world and in generating balanced regional development. Like any successful sporting dynasty, continued success can breed complacency. We have seen the recent CAP negotiations in Brussels across other European countries.

Following Brexit some countries were not willing to fill the gap left in the overall EU budget which left CAP vulnerable to significant cuts. However, as a food producing nation, Ireland, led by then Taoiseach Deputy Varadkar, was very keen to state clearly that we were willing to ask our citizens to pay more as an overall contribution to the European project to fund the priorities that other EU countries share such as defence, research and climate provided that we protected the successful programmes such as CAP. We do not have a food security crisis in Europe. We did not have one during the pandemic either. Our food supply chains underpinned by CAP have been severely tested but have proved to be robust. There are new policy priorities in Europe around the green deal and the farm to fork strategies.

They are priorities that Ireland and our agrifood sector are committed to deliver upon. However that cannot be at the expense of food security because farmers are already on that journey. Changes are taking place every day on hundreds of farms across the country to make them more sustainable, economically, environmentally and socially.

One hundred years ago this State was founded. Around the same time, farmers began to replace the horse and play with the tractor. Farms have been evolving ever since. Now the splash plate is being replaced with the trailing shoe; calcium ammonium nitrate, CAN, is being replaced by protected urea and ryegrass swards are being replaced by low-nitrogen clover swards. This all takes time, but I firmly believe that if we back our farmers and see them as the solution rather than the problem, we will deliver on the ambitious goals we have set ourselves.

I have just come from a farm safety event in Fermoy that was called Safe Farm. There was a live performance about a farmer and daughter working together over the course of a regular farming day. The conversations and interactions were so real to life. Everyone saw a little of their own farming set-up. The performance really reminded me, if we need reminding, of how little value farmers themselves put on their own time. The worries of the day are the price of the produce, the cost of the input and how every job needs to get done. Rarely does the farmer stop and consider how they are protecting themselves from all these pressures.

I have a very good friend who is milking cows and has been for some years. He is a dedicated farmer who takes great pride in his work and runs a very good farm. What I admire most in his whole set-up is the patience of his wife. In the last few years he has got busier and busier and is running faster to try and stand still. It is something that has been replicated in many farms across the country. Recently I visited Vincent Gorman's dairy farm in Kildare. Vincent first milked a cow 60 years ago on a three legged stool. He has developed his farm into a profitable farming enterprise that has allowed his son Brendan to return home. He has enabled the farm to fund both livelihoods and the next generation for Brendan’s son who was born last year. Vincent’s focus on making that farm profitable and making that dairy farm a sustainable model that can sustain a number of incomes has also allowed them to invest in its sustainability around fencing off their water courses and improving its sustainability and biodiversity because that is critical. When Vincent and Brendan think about following generations that will farm that land, they want to protect it. That is where farmers come from. The key is underpinning the systemic financial sustainability of those farms to allow farmers to do that as custodians of the land.

As a society we must not forget our farmers. We must never take our farmers, fishers or our wider food production system for granted. The negative coverage of agriculture in recent times has got in on farmers. As Minister of State with responsibility for farm safety and farmer mental health and well-being it is something that troubles me. I can see it. It comes up in every engagement with farmers that people are against them now and how they might not value the role that they play. The clear message from here today is that we are backing farmers through the support that we have provided to help assist with the cost of the inputs in the short term, but also in the long term as one that can really continue to deliver for our society.


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