Irish farmers want more subsidies

I am disappointed to hear that the Irish Farmers Association is calling for more subsidies – and ridiculous ones at that. The value of the pound has dropped, so as Irish farmers export a large amount of their produce to the UK, the price Irish farmers receive has dropped as well. Now the IFA is calling for Irish taxpayers to make up the difference.

So Irish farmers, who already survive on subsidies (an Irish sheep or beef farmer receives around 50% of their income from subsidies) want yet more money from the government. Money that is taken from other productive sectors of the economy.

However the rest of the economy is suffering at the moment too. No-one else can afford to pay more tax to prop up farmers. Subsidies need to reduce in these hard times, not increase.

New Zealand farmers suffer too with changing exchange rates. They tighten their belts and weather the hard times. That is the nature of any export industry. You can’t expect the government to pick up the tab whenever the market shifts.

In my dealings with the IFA I have found them to be sensible people who want the best for Irish farmers. However they appear to be so used to subsidies now that their automatic response to hardship is to get the government to fix it.

Much as I support Irish farmers, I do hope the Irish government declines this short-sighted request. The EU is already reintroducing export subsidies, which will benefit Irish farmers while damaging agriculture in the rest of the world and draining money from other sectors of the European economy. There is no need for more of this foolishness.

Hat tip: Homepaddock

Compulsory tagging of animals

The NAIT scheme, which would mandate electronic tagging of cattle and deer and provide the potential to extend this to other livestock, is receiving a mixed response from farmers. It is european-socialist style agricultural policy, pushed by Jim Anderton, and having been in Europe I am immediately suspicious of such schemes.

The uses of the scheme include:

  • Identification of animals for biosecurity reasons, such as if there was a foot & mouth outbreak. The current tagging scheme does achieve this too, but in less detail.
  • Theoretical tracking of food from “paddock to plate”. This could be a marketing benefit in Europe. However the accuracy is debatable as the tags are chopped off the animals at the works and there is no guarantee which animal is ending up on your plate, and many farmers have stories of animals they believe have been misidentified using current tagging schemes. Cuts like mince come from hundreds of different animals mixed together so this would be irrelevant anyway.
  • Farmers could use the data for their own purposes if desired, but they can put tags on themselves and do that anyway if they like.
  • The information could be used by the government for other purposes, such as enforcing the Emissions Trading Scheme. This is extremely worrying, as there is a lot of possibility here for the data to be abused. There is a strong parallel with the use of the gun register to confiscate pistols in 1974 from people who until then were legally owning them.

As you can see there are benefits and disadvantages, my gut feeling is that there are more disadvantages than benefits, but it is a very complicated issue. The primary reason for farmers to support it is to gain marketing advantages for our produce in Europe over competing countries such as Argentina. Federated Farmers does not appear to have an official position on it yet probably for this reason.

I disliked the tagging and central recording systems of all livestock in Ireland, and some Irish and British MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) are currently resisting plans to extend electronic tagging to sheep and goats there (they already have mandatory tagging, just not electronic tagging). The major problem with such tagging schemes is that there is always a motivation to have a few animals that are not on the system (‘ghost sheep’ in Ireland), and this natural inclination to avoid the rules greatly reduces the biosecurity benefit of such schemes, which is the major reason for them in the first place.