Minister backs farmers on shows as politicians feel heat at Tullamore Show

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Agricultural fairs can be the ultimate banana peel event for politicians.

Away from Leinster House, politicians’ managers may find farmers and rural dwellers tougher than a bunch of political reporters.

Last weekend’s The Tullamore Show proved no different as politicians were grilled over talk of the carbon cap, where the focus was firmly on agriculture.

With temperatures topping 25C, it was hard to tell whether it was the weather or the issues that had politicians under their collars.

When I met the Minister of Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, he was accused of wanting the sector to return to the bicycle with the aim of setting agriculture back a few centuries.

The grievances of all the farmers driven off the land by the need for a second income were also made to him but for the most part the farming community in Offaly was in good shape and more concerned that the Minister would defend them only by the feeling that he had sold them on the Swanee.

After a three-year absence from the show, the minister enjoyed a trial run for the three-day plowing championships next month, with fellow ministers Martin Heydon and Pippa Hackett.

Even Tanaiste Leo Varadkar came prepared for the weather and he seems to have exchanged notes with his agriculture minister that an open-necked shirt and rolled-up sleeves were the most appropriate look for the day.

Back in business and in his official opening address for the show, Minister McConalogue reassured the crowd that while the industry was facing “one of the toughest decades for our great industry” as he attempts to reduce carbon emissions by 25%, its overriding ambition is twofold. — so farmers can continue to farm into the future while working hard to reduce emissions.

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Roslynn Doyle with Sarah and Sinead McDermott of Rathlyon Belgian Blues. Photo: Alf Harvey

Roslynn Doyle with Sarah and Sinead McDermott of Rathlyon Belgian Blues. Photo: Alf Harvey

He admitted it was a very ambitious ambition, but said it was “eventually achievable” and will see a decade of change for the sector. The foundation, he said, will continue to be high quality dairy, beef and sheep protein, as well as our tillage crops for the next 10, 20 and even 30 years.

“I will support farm families and this government will too over the next decade to achieve our ambitious goals.”

Part of that, he said, is to meaningfully engage with farmers and reassure them that all measures will be on a voluntary basis.

“No measures or policies will be imposed on our farming families,” he said. “Some kind of drastic, enforced reduction in cattle numbers never entered the equation for me.”

Wise words for a minister at the country’s National Livestock Show, where hundreds of farmers had brought their award-winning cattle in the hope of winning the overall championship title. Talking about the slaughter of cattle, whatever it is, would have scared off more than one farmer.

Instead, the minister kept him safe by talking about alternative energy and farmers taking a leadership role.

“Where that leads to changes, where that leads to farmers taking a bigger role in power generation with livestock, obviously that would mean fewer cattle or sheep or livestock in general on a farm of a individual.

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Kieran Mullarkey from Sligo chills one of his Simmental cattle.  Photo: Alf Harvey


Kieran Mullarkey from Sligo chills one of his Simmental cattle. Photo: Alf Harvey

Kieran Mullarkey from Sligo chills one of his Simmental cattle. Photo: Alf Harvey

“No one will be locked up, it’s a partnership between me and the farming families of Ireland,” he assured them.

The opportunities lie in anaerobic digestion (AD), solar energy and forestry which he said will provide opportunities for farmers who wish to consider additional sources of income.

Given the ears he has received about the plight of those who need a second income to support the farm, this is undoubtedly where the minister hopes farmers will focus their attention in the coming years.

There was no mention that only eight forestry licenses are applied for each week or that anaerobic digestion is in its infancy.

The sunshine of Sunday and the past few days will need to continue if the government’s solar power plans are to shine.

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