It irks the agricultural community – somewhat understandably – that their sector tends only to make it into mainstream news at the time of the Ploughing Championships each year. That’s not to knock the remarkable event splendidly spearheaded by the inspirational Anna May McHugh and her daughter. Far from it. There’s a sense, however, that the contribution and importance of farming and agri business to the overall economy is sometimes undervalued. This year’s ploughing showcase was surely another record breaker with a reported 228,000 people filing through the site at Rathineska, Co Laois over the three days. Granted, the unseasonably fine weather towards the end of September was a contributory factor. But the numbers were great last year when the weather was dire and generally always are.
Things like the ploughing are massive for the economy. Not only in terms of those who pay into the site as spectators or stall holders, but when it comes to businesses that benefit from the huge numbers passing through the host town and surrounding areas. After all, many people come from far and wide for such things and they all need to be fed and watered, and many of them accommodated.
All of which means money coming into the economy. Those that take up trade stands do so in the hope of attracting new business. Which, as a knock on effect, will obviously mean more employment. Lely, for example, had their robotic milking machine on display – that’s bound to have attracted interest with further expansion in dairying afoot when quotas come to an end in a couple of years.
The thing is, positive vibes and contributions to the economy are an ongoing, year-round fact, not just during the ploughing. Companies like Dairymaster, McHale, Keenan, Burnside Engineering, Alltech and Dromone Engineering – to name but a few – are doing great things developing agri related products and business and thus boosting the economy and the country.
Then there are other initiatives taking hold as well. Like the recently announced plans between the likes of Kerry Group and some world famous brand names in dairy based food production. Or the advancements made by the Irish Dairy Board regard the British cheese market via a linkup with leading producer over there, First Milk.
Of course, all of the above is only made possible due to on-farm excellence and production. To this end, while it was disappointing that Budget 2014 didn’t include an environmental measure, support for beef, suckler and sheep farmers were necessary and welcome. Potential for economic growth and – in particular – job creation in farming and related sectors is obvious if given a fair airing.
Perceptions that farmers are all loaded and getting handouts from here, there and everywhere are wide of the mark. And always have been. Indeed, if things hadn’t improved – albeit slightly – since my last agricultural offering, certain sectors, – most notably beef farming – was bordering on not being financially viable. Simply because the prices factories were offering farmers for produce were unreasonable and unsustainable. As is the unacceptable price differential between dividends offered to beef producers here and across the water.
To this end, the beef genomics scheme – which will hopefully encourage new entrants and, by extension, expansion of the beef herd – and – maybe more significantly – the re-introduction of a scheme for suckler farmers – while not as bountiful as the original Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme – will hopefully encourage further progress and production.
For surely the suckler herd is the basis for the next generation of the beef herd. Therefore, every support and encouragement it – and farming in general – gets is not only welcome but crucial. After all, having farming systems that are viable and attractive is presumably central to attracting the next generation of farmers. Tradition will only carry so much.
The role which farming and agri business is playing – and can do – for the economy is often underestimated and possibly not as appreciated as it should be. While other sectors like banking, construction and IT have struggled, they have come up with the goods, despite shipping some hefty blows.
From such green shoots, more positivity and ultimately better results all round will hopefully continue to emerge.