While I have long been critical of the thinking at the topmost levels of the IFA, I do not underestimate their ability to mobilise and organise.
It has been interesting to note a subtle shift in emphasis since September 13, when they first announced the Day of Action because of "a disastrous summer," "previous cuts to farm schemes", "escalating farm input costs," and "extra taxes", as well as the failure of the Government to address "the dominance of retail multiples" and "the need to defend the full CAP budget in Europe".
By last Sunday, their plans had become much sharper. Mention of the "disastrous summer" and "previous cuts to farm schemes" had been dropped, and the 300,000 jobs dependent on agriculture were given more prominence.
Previous cuts to farm schemes that were "hitting the lowest income sector of agriculture hard" were replaced by the need for the Government to "secure a full CAP budget that supports productive farmers and the rural economy."
"The Government need to get serious about improving our competitiveness and not damaging it further with more taxes and costs on the hard-pressed business and productive sectors," said IFA last Sunday.
No mention of farmers’ difficulties in paying new taxes — mindful of the danger of opening up a rural urban divide. But I still see glaring omissions from IFA’s list of grievances, principally the lack of mention of cattle prices — even more glaring after experienced agricultural journalist Martin Ryan’s recent analysis of Department of Agriculture figures that showed the QPS cattle payment system is far from the "price neutral" system which processors and IFA claimed, when it was introduced in December 2009.
Martin has reported that total average yearly penalties applied to O grade cattle amount to about €3.206 million, while bonuses of just €1.058m were paid to producers of U grade cattle.
That indicates an average of €2.148m has gone missing each year from farmers’ cheques, since the introduction of the QPS system.
Why didn’t IFA president John Bryan include these figures in his case for why farmers went on the streets of Dublin?
In relation to that most serious of matters, the size of the CAP budget, the question is, "What would happen if there was no EU money?"
When former Longford IFA chairman James Reynolds asked that question on Pat Kenny’s Frontline programme during the Fiscal Treaty debate, there was no IFA official present to reassure the farmers watching, and Mr Kenny went down on one knee to ask Mr Reynolds to desist from pressing it further.
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