Work Must Pay

As the multibillion-euro farming industry has its annual showcase at the Ploughing Championships, putting its wares and products on display, there is one striking paradox surrounding the industry that must be addressed at the highest level nationally.

The paradox is this: Why is it that an industry that supports so much outside the farm gate, generating revenue and commerce nationwide resulting in thousands of jobs and substantial exports, leaves so little inside the farm gate for the primary producer?

It is the job of government to ensure that all citizens benefit from the resources of the state. An oft-used mantra of this government (and of all its supporters in business) when setting wage levels in other sectors, is that ‘work must pay’.  The question then – why does government not implement policies in agriculture that would address the many recognized issues that leads to this imbalance? Does farm-work and food-producing not come under the ‘work must pay’ philosophy?

A few suggested areas to begin with:

  • Address the dominant position of retailers and processers in the food chain to eradicate ‘unfair trading practices’, a recognized problem at EU level that results in ever-reducing returns to the primary producer;
  • Tackle the over-regulation and bureaucracy that is stifling innovation and entrepreneurship, and focus on high-quality branded food products for the export market;
  • Ensure that the long-term strategy for agriculture also includes the real needs of farmers, not just ‘Ireland PLC’. Experience from other countries shows that expansionist policies can come at a huge personal cost to the farmer;
  • Address the huge imbalance that exists in the distribution of the ‘single farm payment’, an imbalance that directly perpetuates the current situation, particularly so in the beef industry where processors who are in receipt of substantial payments can maintain large feedlots and thus control the market.

As the ploughing winds down and the feelgood factor fades, farmers will return home facing into the back end of the year and the bills that inevitably fall due at this time – the annual Ploughing Championships is almost inevitably followed by the annual struggle to make ends meet.

The Government must reassess its strategy and the direction of our biggest indigenous industry; it must put in place policies which, at their heart, have the same principle as applies in any other area of labour. For farmers also, work must pay.