Government warned to consult farmers before any compulsory crop growth orders

Amid rising costs and input availability issues, farmers sceptical about potential move

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has warned the Government it would be “very unwise” to make any decisions on introducing compulsory crop-growing measures before engaging fully with farmers.

IFA president Tim Cullinan said there had been no discussion with farmers on the matter after Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue confirmed on Sunday he would ask farmers to grow more grain due to potential supply shortages that could happen later this year as a result of the war in Ukraine.

His department had assembled a rapid response team and will meet farmer organisations on Tuesday.

Mr McConalogue said Ireland was a net importer of grain and Russia and Ukraine made up 30 per cent of global exports. He said supply might be disrupted in the weeks and months ahead.

“It is far from certain that asking all farmers to plant crops is the best use of the resources that are likely to be available to us,” Mr Cullinan said.

“The biggest issue facing farmers is the rocketing cost and availability of inputs. This is where the Government needs to focus their efforts, as well as looking at some of their own regulations,” he added.

He pointed out that Irish farming is very different to in the 1940s. “What was done then may not be the solution today,” he said. He was referring to compulsory tillage orders introduced by the government in 1939-1945 under which farmers with more than 10 acres were required to grow crops, mainly wheat, on up to 20 per cent of their arable land.

Rapid response

Pat McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) said his organisation would engage with the Minister and his rapid response team on Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of legislation put there as regards fertiliser usage etc that will have to be overlooked in order for these crops to be grown in 2022 on farms. There’s a huge challenge to feed our animals for the winter ahead,” he said.

“We’ll certainly enter [the meeting] with the best form of faith to try and accomplish and make the best we can of a difficult situation,” he added.

"The availability of labour will be a huge issue as farmers attempt to diversify but we will approach it with an open mind and I think all farmers should be encouraged to do so but it has to be practically possible and it has to be viable and hopefully the infrastructure will be put in place to make it attainable," he told RTÉ Radio's This Week programme.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have had a reasonably short winter up to now. There were good stocks of silage there, and I suppose I would encourage farmers, irrespective of their sector, to liaise with suitably qualified agriculture advisers to be as efficient as they can and as prudent as they can with usage of fertiliser and indeed feed during the growing season,” he said.

"What is of concern at this time is food security, and maybe it's something that the European Union, over the last decade or two and in particular during the last Cap reform, had lost sight of," he added.

Call for clarity

Maeve Whyte, director general of the Irish Grain and Feed Association, said they “would of course welcome an increase in Irish food production but there is a need for clarity on what must be done”.

There was a need “to listen to the farmers and what they say about feasibility”. Overall she believed any plans to increase growth “should be part of a suite of measures” that would need to be explored. This could mean looking again “at EU regulations and at reducing the administrative burden when it comes to exports and imports”, she said.

Above all “we should avoid causing any longer-term damage” in what changes may be brought about, she said.

In a statement Mr McConalogue said: “At times like these, food is our most important resource so, as a department, we are taking every possible proactive step to ensure that we are agile and can respond to this rapidly evolving situation.”