Saturday, 21 March 2009

Not published in the paper...

Outlook Poor for Inishowen Farming
Prospects for local farming are very depressing with farming under retreat in Inishowen. The basic profitability for food production is very poor and farmers are feeling the cost/price squeeze more and more these days. The farmers feel bitter as food processors are setting low prices. Some farmers have held on to cattle over the winter, paying for the feed and now find prices are cut right back and they are losing €200 per animal. The industry is in talks about the price of cattle with the processors but the processors are being squeezed by the supermarkets.

Low Food Prices
Customers expect cheap food these days and in real terms food is cheaper today, then it was thirty years ago. In this age of supply and demand the customer is king and the farmers are paying the price for the food we eat. The new cheap supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl keep their prices down through labour and shelving policies and shoppers come to expect cheaper prices. Supermarkets, seeing customers vote with their feet, then put pressure on the food processors that end up setting low prices for food such as beef, milk, cereals and potatoes. The farmer has no choice but to take the price but with no profits is there any reason to continue?

Costs Rising
Even though the prices are being kept low and farmers aren’t getting much return for their labours, the costs of farming are continually rising. Labour has been more expensive as in the boom it made more economic sense to work off farm in jobs such as construction. Although labour is coming back down now, the high cost of oil has influenced so many factors in food production such as food bills, fertilizer, and transport.

Number of Farms Dropping
The number of farms in Inishowen is dropping every year, with about 90% of farmers working part time. Because farming in Inishowen was traditionally small time subsistence farming, there is no way to compete with bigger farms in the EU like in Poland. Farmers don’t sell the land as they can let it sit and don’t have to pay rates so the land is, in a way wasted, as it is not put to any use.

With more unemployment about young people who may have left the farm to work in other industries are returning and seeing what possibilities exist. There has been an upsurge in young people going back to college to study agriculture with places being filled.

Kitchen Gardening
There also has been an increase in farmers growing their own food for the family, particularly spuds, and keeping a few hens as well. This trend is partly a response to harder times when it might make sense to save a bit of money by growing your own, but there is also an interest for people in growing food as a hobby.

The farming community is considering what the future holds here. Some farmers have been exploring energy crops such as biomass, but the reality is that the climate and land here in Inishowen is not suited to these crops. There is a good potential here for wind farming though. Forestry as well, though slow growing will be beneficial for future generations.

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