Farming: a fast-changing sector
Majority of farmers who attended the National Ploughing Championships will have felt comfortable in their skins
There may be clouds on the horizon because of Brexit, but the majority of farmers who attended the National Ploughing Championships in Co Offaly this week will have felt comfortable in their skins. Following a difficult 2016 when incomes fell, dairy farmers are enjoying a year of record prices while the outlook for beef, sheep and tillage farmers is positive. Incomes diverge significantly across the sectors – in some cases being supplemented by off-farm employment – but Teagasc believes the average dairy farm income may reach €80,000 this year.
More efficient production techniques and the creation of added value by supplying niche markets and through the development of new products are the new imperatives
Small wonder the show attracted some 1,700 exhibitors, displaying everything from machinery and food to trade goods and crafts. As the largest outdoor event in Europe, the Screggan festival shows what can be achieved through careful planning and hard work. By the time the gates close today, it is hoped that more than 300,000 people will have attended.
Farming offers an attractive outdoor lifestyle but it involves hard and sometimes dangerous work. The dangers were emphasised by news on the opening day that a former ploughing champion, Martin Kehoe jnr of Wexford, had died in an accident on his farm. The Health and Safety Authority is working with farming organisations to reduce the number of fatalities in an industry undergoing rapid transformation. Numbers are falling, output is rising and farmers are under pressure. More needs to be done.
Detailed planning is as important for agriculture as other parts of the economy. The days of maximising generic output and sending butter and beef to intervention storage are over. More efficient production techniques and the creation of added value by supplying niche markets and through the development of new products are the new imperatives. The approach is being driven by Teagasc and Bord Bia and the results are impressive. Exports of dairy products exceeded €3 billion last year; beef came in at €2.4 billion and prepared foods at €2 billion. Employment in the agriculture, food and drinks sector amounted to eight per cent of the entire workforce. Not bad.