‘We stand with you’ council members tell local farmers

“We stand with you” Westmeath’s farmers have been assured by members of Westmeath County Council, who have expressed deep concern for the future of Irish agriculture and warned that restrictive regulation may eventually lead to food shortages.

During a long discussion on farming at their March monthly meeting, members called for the creation of a new Land Commission-style body to curb the trend of investors and large farmers dominating land purchases.

The discussion was prompted by a motion (see below) submitted by Cllr Denis Leonard proposing that the councillors throw their support behind the IFA’s ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign and calling for funding to support farmers in undertaking climate action and biodiversity measures. During that discussion, members agreed to an additional line to the motion after Cllr Paddy Hill called for the establishment of a land regulatory authority in order to help young entrants to the sector.

The motion will now be circulated to other county councils around the country for consideration.

“I’m from a small farm in the west of Ireland, where we churned butter and milked cows by hand in the ’60s,” Cllr Leonard told the meeting. “My next door neighbour said to me one day ‘our great grandfathers survived round here on 10 acres. Our grandfathers needed 25. My father needed 50 and I couldn’t survive on 100 of this type of land with all the regulations that are there’. So I think that says a lot about the way farming has gone. And I think we need to fully support the IFA in their campaign.”

Cllr Leonard, who noted the average age of a farmer in Westmeath is 62, said farmers have been making huge strides on the environmental front, citing farmers’ actions in improving breeding and feeding, changing fertilisers, increasing forestry, farming more organically, managing emissions and changing the beef production models.

“Rather than cutting herd size, we need to support and supplement farmers to embrace new technologies and make farming more sustainable,” he said.

Cllr Leonard said that while agriculture produces 40% of Westmeath’s emissions, that did not take full account of all the carbon mitigation measures that the farmers are taking.

“Food generation is a necessary industry,” he said.

“Farming practice in the area of soil management, fertiliser use, feed and livestock management or anaerobic digestion, use of renewables and energy generation make a positive impact and they’re given very little credit for that.”

He went on to add the emphasis should be on local food production rather than importing from Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Concurring, Cllr Paddy Hill said EU regulations are causing problems for Irish farmers.

“And I’m not all together certain that our government can do an awful lot about some of these regulations,” he stated.

He was also concerned that at present, non-farming interests are buying up all of the land that goes up for sale.

“Nobody can outbid them: no farmer can outbid them; no farmer can compete with them. And unless there is something done there, we won’t have the type of farmers that Cllr Leonard, and every one of the rest of us here would like to see going into the future,” he warned.


“We’d like to see a vibrant rural Ireland with as many viable farms in it as is possible. But that won’t be the case unless there is something done to prevent those people from buying up those large tracts of land. We will have a situation here that will be far worse than ever it was when we had the British landlords.”

Cllr Hill also said there is over-regulation: no one knows if they can open a drain or cut a ditch; they are being required to re-wet land they previously drained; they are not allowed burn bushes.

Cllr Hill said he supported biodiversity and like many farmers, had done much to facilitate it, but he could not understand why certain species of animals were protected, including some that are killing every bird in the country.

He said Irish farmers are being asked to cut the national herd while at the same time, Brazil is cutting down rainforests to increase its herd by 24 million.

Cllr Hill went on to say that if no support is forthcoming, there will be no young farmers in this country. “The Common Agricultural Policy is not geared towards helping those that it should be geared towards: it is geared towards helping the very wealthy farmers and the very wealthy non-farmers and the little man gets just a pittance out of it.”

He proposed that the government set up a land regulatory authority, along the lines of the Irish land Commission.

Cllr Tom Farrell said one of the reasons he retired from a previous job with the Department of Agriculture was that it went from self-regulation to over-regulation. An example of the craziness was, he said, the fact that the pine marten is “absolutely killing rural Ireland” – but he received death threats when he had raised this in the past.

Cllr Farrell warned that the day would come when there was a shortage of food because of a shortage of producers. He suggested that the council should meet the farmers every year to keep abreast of affairs.

Cllr Andrew Duncan said he is delighted to see farmers around Europe protest: “There’s a war on farmers just like there’s a war on car drivers,” he said.

“The same people who have introduced pine martens want to introduce wolves into Ireland,” he continued, stating that because of this country’s habit of sticking its hand up to be ‘best in class’, we now import foreign turf and wood chips from Brazil.

Cllr Duncan said the problems are partly down to the fact that this country has had almost 20 years of having the Green Party in power.

“And they have done their job… but the problem is for the rest of us who live in the real world, they’re causing huge problems,” he stated, predicting that in the future, Ireland will find itself having to import food.

Cllr Louise Heavin was not happy that the farmers felt they needed to protest: “Farmers are struggling and been struggling for a long time. And I don’t think they should be struggling,” she said, saying it was time to start supporting farmers and small family farms. She too believed it wrong that all the small family farms were being bought up by big estates.

Cllr Heavin went on to say that the farms of her grandparents’ time were not so heavily reliant on pesticides, nor on income from one farming stream; food eaten locally was produced locally.

Support for Cllr Leonard’s motion came also from Cllr Paul Hogan, who said there are “huge issues” – land monopolies, the nitrates derogation, issues surrounding CAP; the difficulty in keeping food prices down.

“Sooner or later you’re going to see food prices absolutely soar – more so than they have to date – and I think that’s very concerning,” he said.

“Really, the farming community are what’s keeping rural communities alive in terms of the economy, in terms of spending money in the local shop and local pub, in keeping post offices open etc. And without them our communities would be absolutely on their knees.”

Cllr Johnnie Penrose said farming had become over-regulated: that was why, he said, there are nearly no small farmers and why all the farms were being bought by bigger operators. He supported the call for a new land commission.

Cllr Emily Wallace said she grew up on a farm; her husband is a farmer, but her son, who is in transition year, does not want to farm.

Cllr Wallace said farm life is “extremely tough, but it is hugely enjoyable” and there are many rewards for a rural family.

“But in order to live and feed and educate your family, you have to make an income and you have to make a profit,” she pointed out, saying that the government should “put their arms around agriculture” and protect it the way it protects corporate tax rates.

Cllr Ken Glynn also felt the farmers had been right to protest. It was, he said “about time the guys at the top – across the board – copped on and started realising that people come first”.

Cllr Bill Collentine also supported the motion, saying Ireland should support farmers and make farming attractive to young people.

The cathaoirleach, Cllr Liam McDaniel, also supported Cllr Leonard’s motion, and said on the day of the protest at the County Buildings, he had welcomed the IFA members, and invited them in. He said that during their visit, the IFA members had given the councillors a good feel for what their issues were.

Cllr McDaniel said he had worked with many small farmers who supplemented their income by working on a seasonal basis in the likes of Bord na Mona, but that option no longer existed.

Cllr Leonard’s motion

“That Westmeath County Council support the IFA ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign, recognise the significant contribution that farming and the agri-sector make to the Irish and local economy and farmers’ contribution to date on climate mitigation measures, and also acknowledge the income challenge on Irish farms arising from the significant increases in the cost of doing business, regulatory costs and cuts in Basic Income supports for farmers.

“That the council call on the government to introduce no further regulations on farmers or any measures that may increase costs on farms without full negotiation and agreement with the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) and that the council call on the EU and the government to provide additional standalone funding, separate to the Common Agricultural Policy, to support farmers in undertaking climate action and biodiversity measures.”