This time next year, the end of an era in agriculture was either just have arrived or be about to. That being the era of the milk quota. It may seem straight forward, but, to those who may not be au fait with farming matters, at some point in the 1980s, the decree was enforced that each farmer would have a quota.
In other words, an individual farmer could only produce x amount of milk and no more. On a bigger scale, of course, it meant that a national quota existed as well. Going over which seemingly triggered fines from on high. Though it was before yours truly knew what was going on in the world, in the interim, it’s been learned that there was so much milk afloat it was – in some cases at least – being disposed of literally like waste.
Given the population growth in this country in recent decades, a repeat of such scenes are unlikely. Simply because there are more customers for produce. However, that doesn’t negate the reality that care and common sense will be required post quota from those in positions of influence and responsibility.
There’s going to be more milk about. Increased supply will thus – most likely – drive down prices. That, of course, means more choice and, ultimately, cheaper shopping for consumers. Consumer value mustn’t in my opinion – as was, in my view, shamefully advocated in one column – come at the expense of those produce what’s eaten and drank.
The piece in question pondered – and that’s the nicest way it could be put – an initiative by Bord Bia and, worse, deplored that importing milk wasn’t encouraged. Basically holding the line that consumer value should over-ride where stuff comes from. Citing how other foodstuffs are imported, and, more or less, not a word about it.
That is true, and if such practices are avoidable, they should be steered clear of. Making that the basis of an argument for cheaper milk is wide of the mark. As would be the hurtful and harmful implication that farmers are either ‘loaded’, ‘milking’ money from God knows where, or both.
Such thinking was also, I’d venture, behind another annoying diatribe which – more or less – made a skit of newly installed IFA President Eddie Downey’s welcome and needed stance regarding the (overly) controlling role of supermarkets in terms of controlling market prices. You’d have to wonder do those coming out with this dross think what they eat and/or drink descends from the sky!
At a more basic level, caution will be needed around the abolition of quota and the expansion in the dairy sector thereafter. Naturally, increased supplies of milk will drive down prices. Which is good for consumers, and there’s no harm in that. Mind you, farmers have to be dealt with in such a way that makes it viable for them to continue production. That hasn’t always been the case across various sectors.
Which brings us to beef farmers. There’s been a swathe of farmers exiting beef production and beginning dairy systems as the barriers to same are removed. What’s new will always be attractive, but, a decline in those running beef enterprises is – on an even more serious note – understandable given the scandalous prices reportedly being quoted by factories to beef finishers for their custom.
It’s often said that the time to get into something is when everyone else is getting out, so, you’d imagine with the large numbers crossing over to dairying, better returns may accrue for those on the beef side. Regrettably, however, it appears those at the top in the IFA and indeed higher up the chain may have to battle vigorously on said issue.
Personally, I feel the end of quota can only be a good thing. Development opportunities must always be welcomed. For all that, dairy expansion – and the wide ranging ramifications thereof – must be managed properly. A level playing field for all must be a basic necessity.