ADDRESSING the AGM of the Irish Farmers Association in Dublin last week, IFA President John Bryan set out the key challenges facing the sector in the year ahead.
"As we start 2011, we are only weeks away from a Spring General Election. Protection of vital farm schemes and retention of essential farm taxation reliefs to facilitate growth will be key elements of IFA's election manifesto," he commented.
Mr Bryan told those in attendance that since taking over as IFA President, he has 'relentlessly promoted' the importance of the sector to the economy in supporting exports and jobs.
However, he warned that the future of the agri-food sector and the future of our economy cannot be jeopardised by the irrational ideology of the Greens in relation to the Climate Change issue, in the dying days of this Government.
He remarked, "Food Harvest 2020 sets out ambitious but achievable targets for the agriculture sector over the next decade. Ireland has the potential to increase farmgate output by n1.5 billion, with an increase in exports to n12 billion. The growth achieved in 2010 alone shows that these targets can be reached."
Mr Bryan added, "the Climate Change Bill threatens to block progress and prevent Irish farming from realising our potential to help meet the rising global demand for food. And we can do it with one of the most sustainable models of food production in the world. I am calling on all Senators and TDs to put jobs, exports and economic recovery first, and to reject this Bill, until the legitimate concerns of our agri-food sector are dealt with.
"There are real threats to Irish agriculture in the ongoing CAP negotiations, with strong demands for the redistribution of funds to Eastern Europe, and for the 'greening' of the CAP, whereby resources would be redirected from food production towards environmental supports."
Mr Bryan put down a clear marker to the Government and to Irish MEPs. Hold the line, and retain the existing payment model and 100% of the Single Farm Payment for our active farmers.
On Mercosur, John Bryan said Ireland's n2bn livestock and beef sector is particularly vulnerable, because Brazilian beef imports will destroy price returns from EU markets. But there are also grave implications for our dairy, pigmeat, poultry and cereals sectors.
"I am putting all political parties on notice today: this will be a key issue to be addressed in 2011. We want a strong commitment from the next Government to take a tough stance in Europe in defence of our interests.
"We must insist on an end to EU double standards on South American imports, when it comes to food safety and traceability, animal health and environmental standards."
Concluding, John Bryan said, "IFA will also be focused on maximising producer prices across all commodities; negotiating a new Charter of Farmers' Rights; and from the new Government, securing full recognition and support for the vital role of agriculture in our economy."