WE WANT NON-HOMOGENISED MILK
Dear Damien O'Reilly,
I have enjoyed your series on farming life this week on RTÉ. We live in a rural area in West Cork and virtually all of our neighbours are farmers. I have had a bee in my bonnet about milk for some time.
We lived in the US and our first two children were born there. We only drank unpasteurised, unhomogenised milk from a licensed farm where we went and got our milk in glass bottles.
On returning to settle in Ireland we continued getting raw milk from our neighbours until they ceased milk production. Now, however, we are condemned to buying milk mostly in plastic containers which create a mountain of waste, our neighbours are getting a derisory price for their milk and I have questions about the health benefits of homogenised milk. (The principal benefit seems to be that the process makes milk look whiter and gives it a longer shelf life.)
Is there any possibility that a farmer or group of farmers would think of producing pasteurised but non-homogenised milk which is really fresh and maybe even packed in returnable glass bottles?
Could someone start by selling such milk at farmers' markets or are there rules and regulations which would have to be got around?
The IFA is very strong on traceability for our meat products. I would like there to be traceabilty for milk as well. I reckon that the fewer the food miles, the less likely it is that the nutrients in the milk will be compromised.
LAMB PRICES FROM 1984
Why have the national breeding ewe numbers reduced from 4.8 million head at the beginning of this century to just under two million at the present time?
Maybe the following lamb price figures of 1984 which I had entered in that year's diary might explain that. The average price of my lambs was 66.67 euro equivalent, this year my lambs are averaging €71.50. The cost to sell a lamb in 1984 was 45 cents, today it costs €2.25 per lamb. That leaves an increase of €3 per head in 25 years. Input costs have soared since 1984 which leaves me getting less for my lambs today. How is it expected that the sheep farming industry can continue in light of such poor prices.
GOVERNMENT HAS BETRAYED SHEEP FARMERS
Sheep farming is in a crisis. Our government has betrayed the sector. When our current tanaiste was Minister for Agri she fooled the sector when she promised 29 million. Not one cent have we got!! to date. Minister Smith is just as bad, and is it any wonder, when Mary Harney ran up a bill of 460k in travel expenses in 2007. This is the shower that are running our country. I agree with one of the farmers you interviewed at Tullamore show "bertie ahern" has left us in a fine mess. Now the reps is gone, a major source of income for sheep farmers. Bearing in mind the Teagasc survey for family income for sheep farmers is only 9000 euro per farm. It appears our Government have no interest in saving this sector. Is it any wonder the sheep breeding numbers have halved in the last few years. We ought to be encouraging sheep farming, it's "eco- friendly" we use little fertilizer compared to intensive dairy farmers.
LACK OF COMPETITION AT MARTS
A good question to pose to any livestock farmer is about competition in mart auctions. Generally, there are only a handful of buyers in any mart, and they are buying beside each other, week in and week out for decades. It is very rare for them to bid against each other. This leaves the farmer as a price taker for whatever the butcher/factory/jobber first offers, with the other potential buyers refusing to get involved in a proper auction. This seems to me to be bid rigging and is outlawed in industry -yet widespread in agriculture.
ASK THE HARD QUESTIONS
I sent you an e-mail yesterday or Monday asking the core question: How can New Zealand farmers land product on our doorsteps at lower cost. I also queried the long list of subsidies. Imagine a similar list for "family" corner shops who had to compete with supermarkets.
I want to challenge your stance in interviewing farmers: you allow a lot of time for them to complain; you echo their complaints that the weather is awful, the prices are low, the Government is cruel and singling them out and on and on and on. I don't think you do them a service unless you challenge them to innovate and become more competitive and to get up off their knees.
T.J Maher was the one and only IFA leader who told his own members to get up off their knees. Ever since we have had leaders who got elected on the back of promises "To put more money in farmers pockets" - whether that be by slaughter premiums for thin sucklers or putting mountains of butter into intervention. All short-term money fixes to satisfy farmers.
Farmers have never been given genuine long term strategic leadership. For example, Tom Parlon was hailed as a hero when he got another 50 euro a head from the factories a few years ago. Meanwhile, the quality of the herd was in continuous decline. For a generation farm leaders have played down to the weaknesses of their members and the losers in the end are farmers.
All the best,
I wish to object in the strongest possible terms the comments by one farmer during your interviews at Tullamore Show on Sunday which was broadcast on Monday morning's Breakfast Show on Radio 1.
He said that he would not encourage his son to be a farmer at the moment and instead he would send him off to be educated and export him. Does this farmer not realise that there are currently many highly educated people both male and female working in the industry. It is indeed a slur on his own profession to pass a comment like this.
Not only is education a basic requirement of modern day farming, but what the industry needs at the moment is a further influx of highly educated, motivated and clever individuals.
Keep up the good work but watch the editing!!!!!
WHAT ABOUT BEEF AND SHEEP FARMERS?
I've been listening to RTÉ's series of radio programmes on the farming sector. They've been very enjoyable.
However, may I suggest that you diversify them a bit. If the focus is too much on dairy and tillage then an unrepresentative view will view of farming will emerge. These two sectors have been the only two profitable sectors over recent years in an otherwise depressed agricultural market. They also support a relatively small number of fairly large farm operations. If you include beef or especially sheep farmers in the programme, you will get a fairly different outlook for farming in recent years, as well as some of the most affected people from the premature termination of the farm waste management scheme.
LOOK AFTER THE WEAK
Cut the single farm payment to large intensive farmers, the greedy large dairy farmers and divert it to the traditional dry-stock family farm. The dry-stock farmer is struggling to survive, the large dairy farmers are never happy, "the more they have the more they want". The loss of the reps to the dry-stock sector will be profound. The dept of Agri made a mess of the reps by allowing farmers over 170kg/ha in to the scheme. It was never intended for them. I believe if we are to sustain as many people in rural Ireland the money will have to be channelled better. Therefore, if commercial (greedy) farmers are so eagar and hungry for the world they should press ahead without any form of subsidies and government aid and be strictly monitored in relation to pollution, the environment and the rural landscape is the least of their concern, just their "bank account".
It's up to the e.u. and Minister Smith to make sure the weak are not left behind and not forgotten in rural Ireland.
Paul in Co. Cork.
IT'S WORSE THAN YOU THINK
Hello Joe O'Brien and Damien O'Reilly,
Joe you mentioned a 15% drop in Irish farm incomes this year. I am convinced that farm incomes are going to drop by much more. 80-90% of dairy and tillage farmers are going to lose money this year. NO PROFIT NO INCOME. Drystock farming has been a hobby for 75% of those involved for years being subsidised by off-farm income and social welfare. Much of the off farm income was coming from construction work which has disappeared.
You may locate some niche operators who are making profits but don't use them to camoflage a very serious situation for tens of thousands of farmers.
I admire the passion of both of you in your work.
SO WHO EXACTLY IS MILKING IT?
I would like to add my comments to your excellent programme. This month I received 21 cents per litre for my milk from the Co-Op. Tesco are charging the consumer 133 cent a litre for milk; that is a difference of 112 cents plus they also have the bonus of the cream from the milk, so who is creaming it off? Most certainly not the farmers.
Farmers are realistically held to ransom because the product is so fragile and even if farmers were to withhold their milk and go on strike it would be virtually impossible for them to dispose of the milk in a safe fashion without polluting the rivers and lakes of Ireland. So their hands are tied.
Farmers are so disillusioned with their co-ops and shops it is not funny.
THE PRICE OF A LITRE
I have just heard a mention (by a farmer?) of the price of milk in supermarkets being up to two euros a litre. This is ridiculous and shows how distorted figures are thrown up in the media. Tesco and most other supermarkets charge 1.49 for a two litre carton. I agree this is too low to give the farmers a decent margin and is probably used as a loss leader. Why don't the farmers lobby the supermarkets?
DAYS OF GRAVY TRAIN ARE OVER
Damien, there is a fundamental question that has to be put and answered without spin: Why can New Zealand farmers land product at the door of Irish supermarkets at lower price than Irish farmers? New Zealand is a developed country like Ireland and has high standards.
On one of the programmes over the weekend, I heard a farming spokesman complaining about the cuts to a seemingly endless list of grants and subsidies -- from forestry to thin sucklers. As recently as two years ago, I heard Ministers urging farmers to produce what the market needs. They still hadn't got the message that has been preached for 30 years. Like all other sectors, the farmers have to face the reality that the days of the gravy train are over and they have to join the real world.
All the best,
REPS WITHDRAWAL A DISASTER
Hello morning ireland,
The decision to close the reps scheme is a disaster for small farmers in rural Ireland. The EU paid 55% of the monies and all of the money - on average €6000 per farmer - was spent in the local economy. All commentators would agree that this has been a very effective scheme for improving the rural environment. How the Green party could be part of this decision is incredible. Fianna Fáil have clearly abondoned their rural roots. The reps scheme has been one of the most cost effective where the monies given had to be spent. Many will be driven unto farm assist. Low prices and now this.
Food production is an absolute necessity for any country. The current approach is placing this ability for a country to produce its own food in serious trouble.
We have a hopeless government completely out of touch.
FARMING IS EASY TARGET
While the popular cliché of the moment is that "everyone must be
prepared to pay their part in getting us out of the current economic crisis" the reality is that over the last decade, farmers who are currently being singled out as sacrificial lambs were forced to suffer reduced incomes and watch while the rest of Irish society celebrated the frenzied excesses of the Celtic Tiger
Farming has unfortunately become a very easy target for attack because:
(1) Increased Globalisation and EU policies have forced the current generation of Irish farmers to sell their produce for well below the prices which their fathers received over twenty years ago. Teagasc figures show that farm incomes in stark contrast to incomes in the rest of the economy, have declined over the last two decades. This has led to a situation where Irish farmers find themselves not alone relying on handouts to live on, but also using these handouts to pay off their farm bills.
(2) It is as a direct result of these demeaning handouts, that farming is now being portrayed as being little more than 'an undeserving charity', and efforts to highlight the ongoing crisis in farm incomes are being simply dismissed as 'crying wolf'.
I find it most disturbing to listen to leading economists,
commentators and indeed academics expose their most human of all attributes 'self interest' and not a little 'ignorance' by adding
their voices to the current attack on Irish farming. The reality is
that when the dust has settled it will be seen that agriculture has
always been, and still remains the real backbone of the Irish economy.
LESSONS OF PRODIGAL SON?
I gave up Dairy Farming in 2002. I employed 3 people at the time. I was getting 24 cents per litre for my milk and at that time it was selling for almost 3 times the price in the supermarkets at about 64 cents per litre.
Now, in 2009, the price to the farmer has gone down to 20 cents per litre and a litre of milk is selling for about 120 cents in the supermarkets, which is 6 times the price paid to the farmer.
In the meantime the agricultural wages board still sends me an annual notice to say that wages for farm workers must increase every year. It's not surprising I no longer employ my 3 lads and a substantial part of my former farm is permanently out of food production.
Meanwhile the world population is increasing by about 75 million people per year. As usual, there will be plenty of talk; no government will act until it is too late, and it will end in tears, sooner or later, as usual.
Those who have foresight will have long since moved to protect the future of themselves and their own families. It all depends whether one prefers the lesson of the prodigal son, where it all turns out ok in the end, and the wicked are forgiven (Goldman Sachs Banking, anyone?), or you heed the ones about wise and foolish virgins or how lean years follow fat ones!
WHO GETS WHAT FROM MILK PRICES?
Milk costs up to 2 euro a litre.
Can you investigate who gets what in milk prices?
Seems to me that wholesalers and supermarkets abuse the farmers.