February 1, 2011

A green and golden opportunity

Posted in Irish Economy · 104 comments ·

The stillness of the Grand Canal in Tullamore perfectly complemented the quietness of William Street in the town the other night.

The place was empty. Walking across from Dick Conroy’s garage underneath the ad for Tullamore Dew at Kelly’s bar, I contrasted this stillness with the commotion which must have erupted the night Tullamore became the scene of the world’s first aviation disaster.

Imagine what Tullamore must have felt like on that fateful night in 1785,when a hot air balloon came down in the centre of the town setting fire to over 100 houses.

Did the locals try desperately to get water out of the Silver River, down by Bridge Street, to quench the inferno?

The canal was not completed for another 15 years, and now Tullamore’s wide streets, squares and solid colonial buildings – as well as its well-kept Presbyterian and Methodist churches – give the place the distinct feel of a formerly prosperous market town. It is not difficult to see how this hub of the local agricultural economy, with its canal link to Dublin, must have boomed in the late 18th century.

Last Thursday night, it was dead. The streets bore all the hallmarks of today’s Ireland. Strolling past O’Donovan and Cowen Solicitors – founded by you know who – everything in the window of Shoes ForU was 50 per cent off. Across the street in Rebecca’s, KMB boots – swanky, wedged boots for a certain type of woman – were also advertised at half-price.

It was the same story in Galvin’s Menswear and Jen Joe Shoes for Kids – opposite the offices of the Tullamore Tribune – where everything was slashed to sell. This is a town whose retail heart is suffering badly. This is the story of provincial Ireland.

How can this be fixed? The wonderful people I met last Thursday night were asking the same question. Many were members of Irish Rural Link, a nationwide movement that aims to keep rural communities alive.

A local man, Seamus Boland, has been at the heart of this movement for over two decades, working quietly and courageously trying to preserve the quality of life in some of the most rural and isolated parts of our country.

The people spoke of the disproportionate impact that emigration is having on rural Ireland. Few in the room didn’t have a child or a brother or sister who hadn’t emigrated in the past year or two.

The community has been destroyed, leaving parents isolated and the marrow hollowed out of the local economy.

At the heart of rural Ireland is farming. Could we reinvent farming in Ireland as part of a recovery? Regular readers of this column will be aware of my interest in marts. The good news for farmers in this part of the world is that, since Christmas, prices in the Tullamore Mart are up between €50 and €70 per head.

But while things look good for agricultural prices for 2011, margins will still be under pressure. Inputs to agriculture (fuel and feedstuffs) are also much more expensive than in previous years.

According to Teagasc, direct payments accounted for 143 per cent of farm incomes. This means that the average farm in Ireland is run at an operating loss. Yet there is a huge opportunity there. Think about what is going on around the globe. The world’s population is rising and, more significantly, its diet is changing. As the Chinese get richer, they want to eat like us. Middle-class Chinese citizens want to eat beef and dairy products.

In fact, looking at the explosion of alternative Chinese medicine shops in south Dublin, it seems that, while the middle class of China wants to become western, the middle class of the West wants to be Chinese – but that’s another story.

The key is this: demand for food will go through the roof in decades to come, and it is the type of food that we produce.

We can already see this process; last week, the riots in Egypt were partly to do with democracy, but were prompted by the rise in the price of food.

The increase in the global price of beef and dairy is a given, so what are we going to do about it?

This is a golden opportunity for Irish farming but, to take advantage of it, we must act now. Unfortunately, agriculture is dominated by subsidies, and these are not a long-term answer to agricultural as a business.

Subsidies are necessary for us to be able to have food produced at an affordable price so we can buy it in the shops. Ireland receives about €1.7 billion per year in agricultural subsidies from the EU (or €13,000 per farm).

Payments like these distort the market, but abandoning them would mean that agriculture would collapse in Ireland.

Without massive price rises, every farmer in the country would be insolvent in a year.

So what are we going to do to keep the price of food in Ireland reasonable, and keep the rural economy alive? Believe it or not, the answer is probably more subsidies.

The agriculture industry needs to be shaken up – uneconomic, small farms will only be a drag on the industry, as subsidies that go to these farms simply allow those farmers to survive, rather than thrive.

Without consolidation and a return of the kind of investment that agriculture hasn’t seen in two decades, agriculture will not be in a position to face the challenges that will come with global demands for higher production in the coming decades.

So, instead of telling average farmers that they will get a subsidy – ie a subsistence payment – farmers could get an ‘investment payment’.

Tell every farmer that they will get four times’ the average payment – say, €50,000 per annum for the next five years – to get their farms set up for the new ‘high production-low margin’ farming model that is needed to make the industry sustainable in the future.

After five years of payments for capital infrastructure input, farmers should get nothing more. This would liberate farmers to really make a go of things – and most are not afraid of this. They are aware of what is going on in the world, and the opportunities that are available.

The time to do that is now. Let’s think: investing €50,000 in each farm each year for the next five years would be a total investment of close to €33 billion. That’s about how much we put into Anglo Irish Bank for nothing.

If we are prepared to waste this public money on a financial cesspit, we shouldn’t baulk at investing a similar amount in one of the ‘real’ industries we have. A five-year stimulus plan, instead of a €1.7 billion annual subsidy, would transform the industry, rather than maintain a status quo that is going to get us nowhere.

We can totally change the face of agriculture in Ireland for the cost of one Anglo. And the money would not be wasted. Capital spending would provide some desperately-needed employment in the areas of the economy that have been hardest hit – construction and semiskilled workers.

After five years, the efficient and well run farms will survive, and production will rise to meet the demands of a global population of seven billion people.

However, without some new thinking, agriculture will be stuck in the doldrums, and market towns like Tullamore will stagnate.

  1. adamabyss


    • enisfinn

      We are underpopulated,with space to grow enough food ( and Beet!)to feed the planet.Farmers can play a huge roll in realising that dream. We need to go a bit further.I saw what could be done in some small communities in UK where locals grew produce anywhere; gardens and the “long acres”.Most of it was given away locally.Our farmers should lead the way.Their remit should extend to all vacant plots etc. But I think we need to kiss europe goodbye,if they interfere.

    • Hmmm; David has the IFA employed you? No red tape no restrictions just increased production dind’t we have this just with the banks, politicians, builders and see who is paying the price…..
      400times more milk, does anyone actually thinks of the 400 times more Slurry? You will drink it with your tea and feed it to your children.
      are you heralding the multinational land grab? Declaring small farmers (which might be much more divers than a giga piggery or dairy unit) not worth while to be kept and to be sacrificed for big multinational companies ranches?
      Look at the oil price and the way it is going soon it will become very expensive to import fertilizer ( The Nitrogen for Irish farmers comes from Egypt, just to inform you) and P and K are limited to it is not a straight forward motorway to light touch production
      folks be warned! It seems like a musical variation of the same team a Light touch regulation…… and interpretation
      cheers, with the black stuff,.. hope you do not mind its slurry….

    • MjHi

      I agree with all this plan David but as most farmers will tell you that setting all these plans is fine but keeping it going is the problem.You want low cost in a high cost country.High minimum wage high fuel duties & above all high regulation.The most regulated employment laws in Europe.Nitrate directives I can go on & on.As a former self employed person myself the country looks to us the SMEs to repair the economy but still wants to dictate the terms.
      I am looking to start up a company now at the edge of Europe to service my Irish customers.I have less regulation & more power & most of all less cost.For me this is the future.


    A group singing from a similar hymn sheet below.Think you should have mentioned about the practices of supermarkets that are squeezing the life out of margins for farmers and also involved in the practice of charging then for shelf space to place their products.


  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David McWilliams, Ronan Lyons, Eggfuel, Tara Fay , ManUnderMoon and others. ManUnderMoon said: RT @davidmcw: New on the site: A green and golden opportunity http://dlvr.it/FXdVz [...]

  4. Dorothy Jones

    ‘If we are prepared to waste this public money on a financial cesspit, we shouldn’t baulk at investing a similar amount in one of the ‘real’ industries we have’

    +1 to that.

    I am a farmer’s daughter. Our farm was sold at auction by a bank some months previously. The story behind this is part of the reason why I support any effort to bring change to the deception and corruption in Bank, Politic and Judiciary in Ireland.


      you should get involved in the Take Back Ireland campaign on facebook,they are highlighting expense abusers and calling for radical reform of the political system.Asking why TDs can’t take pay cuts when their wages are three times the National average and claiming the same again in expenses.yesterday it was announced that 10% of the people have 25% of disposable income.Something is seriously wrong now.

      • coldblow

        I also picked up the 10% figure as I’d read an article in the paper quoting an Egyptian saying that only 8.5m had been doing well out of a population of 85m. Postcolonial legacy?

        • Deco

          You mean a 10% gombeen statistic.

          • coldblow

            Same thing? Anyway, 10% is too big to be shifted really, it’s too broad a base. 1% would be a different matter. I see little significance in what is happening in Egypt – same elite, different faces.

          • scientists seem to think the soil is dying.

        • shtove

          DMcW doesn’t mention the influence of quantitative easing on food prices.

          Do many commentators mention the probable influence of the resultant inflation in fuel and grain prices on the Cairo protests? Anyone see that western bankers are enjoying the fruits of their corrupt bets at the expense of the world’s poorest people?

          What’s happening at the moment is partly down to speculation. The bailed out banks turn away from the losing business of lending in stupid real estate and fill their boots by investing funds (guaranteed by the taxpayer) in commodities, which causes even more pain for the taxpayer.

          This too shall pass, but what a cruel joke.

          Anyway, I agree there probably is a longterm trend of rising food prices.

          By the way – Denninger has come up with a video interview advising the people of Ireland to do an Iceland. It’s a bit hokey, but this guy was very forthright about the bank disaster four years ago and is just wondering when the next leg down is due. Plus I reckon it’s a better proposal than blowing a bubble in agriculture subsidies!


  5. MT25

    All for investment in agri sector – but not without a fair share of the equity in any emergent businesses. One of the problems with Irish farming is that it is almost impossible to get into the industry unless you inherit land – hard to prop up a feudal system with tax payers money.

  6. Tullamore

    It once was a triving and prosperous beautiful town until Cow N Gate did a terrible deed . And now all has been lost .Just a shadow of its former self.

  7. CitizenWhy

    Interesting. My farm relatives in Ireland all live on prosperous consolidated farms. One aunt and uncle, now deceased, were the only Irish family operating a completely modernized – and very profitable – dairy farm in one of the best agricultural areas of Ireland. All the neighboring modernized farms were in the hands of northern Europeans. This was in the 70s.

    Another uncle and aunt were among the first to form herds of Charolais cattle, small animals but far more productive than their bigger kin.

    In China Mongolian milk is the premier beverage brand. It is known for its richness, quality and safety (much food in China is of dubious safety).

    You are right. Irish dairy products, if allowed in, could become highly desired brands in China. But I would do this in conjunction with French foods. a collaborative effort to get high end, quality Euro foods and beverages into China could work well. I would also suggest setting up Irish pubs in Beijing, Dalian, Shanghai and Guanzhou. These pubs would be very attractive to the many Euros in these cities. The chinese would follow.

    Dalian, the center of the internet and high tech industry, would be key. Its techies might do some promoting of such a pub – and its foods for sale – on the Chinese internet. Dalian is a beautiful port city north of Shanghai.

    • Malcolm McClure

      Chinese people have a genetic intolerance to lactose. (Along with the Koreans, Japanese and Israelis). Arabs can cope with lactose so maybe try to market your milk in Egypt.

      • coldblow

        Yes, I read somewhere about the ancient Israelites and that in some ways this helps account for their religious differentiation from their neighbours.


    For the past 50 and 40 yeras, industrial and agricultural policy has been built around giving grants, subsidies and the like to producers.Net result, a collapse in ag employment, down by 75 % and a bankrupt economy, only surviving because of mammoth emigration.Ray Crotty wouldn’t be impressed by this nonsense.

  9. astainexile

    For more years than I care to state, I have been saying to anyone who would listen, why is not Ireland not exploiting its natural resources in a manner that would benefit not only the agricultural industry but also the tourist industry too. Ireland should be the garden of Europe offering high quality produce to the world market. Currently living in Spain (I left the ratrace in 2004) I am amazed at how many people look for Irish beef in the supermarkets and love the idea of cows actually eating fresh grass. No the big fatcats stole our co-ops, sold to Europe and left the people with the crumbs. The so called Celtic Tiger was fantasy which Fianna Fail sold to the people so that they might erroniously feel they were enjoying the increasing wealth of the super rich. Time to get real.

  10. Deco

    When you were in Tullamore, I don’t suppose, by any chance that you managed to stumble across a drunkard, who started telling you that he was once leader of this country, that he was the man that everybody wanted to play golf with, and that he turned many corners….just don’t give him any money…he has already cost us all enough !!! He deserves some time for sober reflection !!!

  11. Gege Le Beau

    Tangental to the flurry of ideas in recent times.

    1 million people have congregated in Tahrir Square, Cairo showing the world how you deal with a corrupt and unresponsive political system.

    • Deco

      Send over Bertie Ahern. Then Mubarak can start building ediface “Circus Maximumus” complexes for the locals to keep their minds off more urgent issues. More circuses to make up for less bread.

      • Gege Le Beau

        Precisely, maybe he thought the Bertie Bowl could have deflected people away from the myriad of tragedies that have been revealing themselves or are unfolding as I write…….terribly cynical and out of touch.

        Egyptians are re-writing history, the efforts there will change the region and influence the African continent, Middle East and beyond. Got to get the people on the streets, but the situation has been brewing for decades, high food and energy costs, unemployment and poverty have pushed people to breaking point.

        • Deco

          Gege – there have been commentary that maybe this might parallel the last time that a collection of people’s got rid of opressive regimes – in 1989. However, in retrospect the role of Solidarnosc, dissidents like Havel, and a Soviet leadership that was begining to realise that whole thing had been played to death and was simply based on too many flawed assumptions and theories that failed to explain the human existence.

          I do not know if such dissidents exist in the Middle East. And whereas the Soviets locked them up, in the Middle East, dissident thinking can be a complete heresy. the next logical step is murder. There are similarities in the way that the US (and to a lesser extent France and China) prop up these types of regimes in the third world)


          Interestingly enough, the revolt started on the very day that the regime had reserved for the veneration of the police. (in a police state).

          It is by now means certain that the eventual successor regime to the Air Force Colonel M H Mubarak
          will be any better than the past. It might be a regime that is militaristic or antagonistice – like occurred in Iran in 1979. Kunstler draws on the similarities with Iran and the potential scenario that a very sectarian minded government might eventually take power.


          This could be the end of what Kunstler calls Happy Motoring, and the hard sell, blandly boring, Strip Mall culture.

  12. Deco

    Contrary to David’s theory that large farms are more productive, I disagree slightly. I present the example of England, a country with very good soils, excellent capital availability, and a huge urban market. England is country of massive consolidation of the land resources, for historical reasons.

    Yet, agriculturally, England has become a disaster. Admittedly the growth of Tesco in recent years has been considerably at fault – and Gordon Brown nominated Tesco head Terry Leahy to his business forum.

    In comparison, the Netherlands is a country of smaller landoholdings. And is far more productive with respect to it’s resources. I also think that it is better for society if have many small producers, rather than a few large producers. Yes, scale is beneficial for highly mechanized production areas like the production of potatoes, wheat, and certain crops. But meat production, mechanization tends to be very costly in terms of resource consumption. I am stating that maybe in animal and fowl husbandry, the scale might be better suited downward than upward.

    Also I do not think that agriculture, will solve our short term financial predicament. The output per unit labour production ratio is much lower than in high tech. The problem is that we do not know how long we will be able to hold onto high tech. We are liable to become copied by other, less expensive economies.

    However, agricultural production is very labour intensive, and can do something about our unemployment problem very quickly. It seems that our political establishment regard getting people to leave as an even easier strategy.

    I remember Colm McCarthy pointing out the number of state bureacrats focussed on the food sector, compared to the number of producing full time farmers. Basically, it tells us that agriculture is as much about bureacracy as anything else. The situation in the fisheries sector is even worse. I have heard stories of people who wanted to go into aquaculture, and the processes and bureacratic nonsense would drive them elsewhere. Yet we have the seas around us, and when you are in Galway, you can see an extremely well resourced Marine Institute in NUIG (called after the father of the founder of Ryanair). And yet, that never takes off either.

    Basically, like ivy growing around a tree, an industry of bureacracy tends to build up around sectors where we have natural competitive advantages. And eventually it takes over the tree. Officially it is there to “nurture” or “protect” or develop” the sector. But mostly it is to make sure that the profit from the sector is diverted to the professions, and those who are going to be knocking on your door canvassing for local political candidates over the next three weeks. This bureacratic layer tends to find the worse elements of Irish society – identified by the persona of the ‘me fein, politically well connected, gombeen’.

    • My great great grandfather ( also John ) was the gameskeeper of Elveden Hall in England and is now lived by the Guinness Family .In those days it covered 30,000 acreas .Today its smaller 20+ and all British Beef sourced by Mc Donalds Food Chain is bought from there .Its a massive food resource center .Amazingly its location is not shown on a public map.

  13. coldblow

    Interesting. As someone was posting the other day on irisheconomy, two big things for the future are food and energy security.

    David seems to be suggesting a British ag. model: high-tech, large holdings, capital intensive. Industrial? I wonder how that ties in with current export marketing which seems to be for ‘high end’ products, presumably from ‘natural’ methods? (I was talking to an east Galway farmer over Christmas who said that he and his neighbours were exporting very high quality animals (live) to (I think it was) Italy.)

    I don’t know about that – maybe. I think Irish ag. is inefficient, and Crotty argued that production here had declined while that in the rest of Europe had risen. David mentions the high cost of inputs (eg fuel and feed) and that would seem to be crucial. Without going into all this again (I’ve written about it here before) Crotty himself had gone into farming using the best methods and employed a dozen or so workers on his farm. With a lot of very hard work his output was impressive but the profits were no better than those of the “farmer” next door who did nothning and let his cattle run wild, so that the dealers had to go and round them up like in the Wild West. The penny dropped: it was the cost of inputs that was driving down his profits, mainly wages I think (we all know how expensive it is to live here, which is why wages need to be so high). Cattle was the most economical use of the land as it didn’t require as many inputs as tillage. Cattle is also land-intensive (in the sense that you need to use more land, a lot more, to obtain an equivalent output of grain or whatever) but that’s fine because in Ireland land is not taxed.

    So yes, efficiency. I’m just wondering if that efficiency is to be gained by merging holdings (small farmers forced out would, once they’ve spent their proceeds, be dependent on social welfare instead of EU ag. welfare). Crotty’s solution to inefficiency was to tax the land. This would make land use more effient. Presumably under David’s scenario much of the land would be leased out to professional farm managers and when the latter bring in high profits then the owners would increase the rents and pocket the proceeds (presumably to invest in whatever they have always done, via the Irish banks in foreign economies I suppose).

    I also mentioned here before a Late Late from about the early 90s where a British farmer advocated ending EU subsidies. He had done very well out of them and was thankful, but he was now very rich and didn’t really need the money. A vociferous Irish ag. lobby, led by Ivan Yeats, in the audience took him to task. After all, they stood to lose a lot.

    Could go for the Scottish Highland model and just clear out the land for sheep, leaving a small number of elegant mansions dotting the landscape while the rest go to Ballymun or abroad.

    Also interesting re Chinese milk and beef consumption. I read about the increased demand for milk a few years ago and it surprised me as they are a largely lactose-intolerant people.

    Just to digress a little, it’s odd how most of those who are going into small-scale local cheese production and similar are Germans or other Europeans. Ireland has no tradition of such enterprises. A report on Nationwide last year showed a micro brewery in a Dingle pub (Irish owned this one, I think) which had decided to make its own beer as foreign tourists kept asking to drink the local brew. One reason for the lack of local variety is the lack of demand for it. What has happened to the Smithfield brewery in Dublin for example? A few pubs used to sell its stout and ale but nobody used to buy it. What happens to the numerous kinds of fish caught but which don’t happen to be cod, haddock or three or four other sorts? They end up in Spain and elsewhere. Kevin Myers noted this phenomenon too.

    Some years ago, when I was discussing English real ale with a friend from there, a Dublin lad with us said that they had their own regional differences here too: apparently you could spot subtle variations in a pint of CO2 compressed keg Harp lager in different bars, FFS. It’s analogous to people from West Clare travelling up to Dublin to watch Riverdance or Irish football supporters singing the very same tunes invented by the educationally-challenged teenage hooligan-balladeers of the English terraces of the 70s. Or middle class sophisticates obesessing about sun dried tomatoes and their ilk. Hope they never read Cristo Si E Fermato a Eboli where the author describes the darkening clouds of flies descending on acres of Italian tomatoes drying in the sun!

    • coldblow

      Just been thinking about Ireland’s lack of local diversity in terms of cuisine, crafts, etc. I don’t think it’s important in that if it were then the Irish would surely have developed this before. I’m not sure what the piture is outside Western Europe, but presumably the Irish were either too busy trying to stay alive, or had other priorities.

  14. Deco

    Here is a true story.
    A family business was thinking about expanding production in a rural area. Between relatives and loans there would be 1 million euro invested. They went to the local authority. The local authority gave strong hints that they were to hire a certain architent. This cost 20 grand. Yeah, just for a set of plans. But the going rate was expensive, despite the fact that there are architects on the dole.

    They brought the plans to the local authority. They were told that these were satisfactory. They were then told – now we want a development levy of 80 grand, before you do anything. The main family member involved in these told the local authority to stick the plans where the sun don’t shine. The loans were cancelled. Everything was put into cold store.

    That shows you how the system works in Ireland. It is not officially corruption. It is in a grey area that is not obviously right, and not obviously wrong. But it is wrong. It reminds me of this farce concerning Ivor (the cannivorer) Callelly. I cannot even comment about what I really think, because David might get sued for allowing me to make my comments public. Suffice to say Callelly has brass neck.

  15. It fills me with nothing less than pure disgust to hear that Cowen has the entitlement to a 300K lump sum.

    Shameless is just the first name.

  16. Deco

    Another story. A farmer sold land for sites. He invested the money in production of biodiesel. This was something that he studied in depth, and is his passion. Got all the equipment required by EU specifications. You could say he was turning the construction mania into Mary Hanfin’s “more sustainable growth from now on” model of economics.

    He the applied to the relevant Irish authorities to sell Biodeisel. He was refused, because the plant was not sufficient for their liking. He was flabbergasted. He can sell it in Northern Ireland, however. They inspected the product – fine – proceed. And he is selling it to buyers in the North. It is reducing it’s environmental benefits, and this depsite the fact that the Greens are in power. As the saying goes “you couldn’t make it up”.

    Another man, living close by – with no land, no crop, no ingredients, no plant, got a licence to sell biodeisel to the Irish market. Figure that one out. Oh yeah. He had the political connections. The way of the gombeen.

    The gombeen culture with regard to business and the state/private sector interface needs to be completely overhauled and cleaned up. It is causing nothing but misery, unfairness, corruption. In fact it is driving people with good ideas and drive, into neighbouring economies.

    • Deco – today I have been told of two young ladies I know who are known to Peter Power received text messages from W ‘ O Dea ( whom they do not know ) to ask to help in his canvassing this week.They are shocked .How many more strangers has he done the same to ?If P Power loses his seat we can say we know why .

      • Colin

        I got text messages from Willie O’Dea asking for my participation in canvassing around the city. I’m not a FF voter, let alone a member of FF, just happened to attend one of his clinics looking for some advice on Back to Education Allowances and Fee payments as a mature student a few years back. He did wish me a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year too just before Christmas which was nice of him I suppose. By the way, when Willie made that comment about Maurice Quinlivan and the ladies of the night, the landlord of the brothel was Maurice’s brother Nessan (which never gets mentioned in the media for some strange reason).

        Peter Power is a gonner anyway. Are the two young ladies more shocked about those text messages than the way Peter Power voted for NAMA & IMF/EU loan at 6% interest?

        • Deco

          Funny thing is that O’Dea did slander Maurice Quinlivan, but not the Quinlivan name as such.

          This is the thing about Ireland. Even if you are half right you cannot say certain things because it will damage another’s “right to good name”.

          I mean even crime bosses claim the “right to good name”. I know because I was observing a criminal case, where a newspaper used a pseudonym for a well known Dublin crime boss who has a woeful reputation. And his lawyers where arguing that the case against him be disbanded because it violated his “right to good name”. Even more absurdly, the Judge adjourned the case !!!

          • Colin

            We also now have RTE Pravda’s Miriam O’Callaghan’s brother running for Fianna Fail. Are we to expect Miriam to suddenly be neutral in her Prime Time role since she’s been very soft on FF, in particular in the past 3 years?

  17. BnB

    I agree completely that agriculture should be taken more seriously as part of the economy but I have to disagree with David’s ideas for its future. Transporting and refrigerating beef on a trip halfway round the world to China would be neither commercially nor environmentally sustainable. That’s a lot of work, energy consumption and greenhouse gases from beginning to end, all for the sake of a product that will be consumed within minutes. It would be even worse that food would be exported from Ireland where more and more children are going hungry and relying on charities for food, exporting to China where hundreds of millions are living in rural poverty. The Chinese middle classes would have to pay an extremely high price for Irish food to justify that.

    • There were giants in Ireland one time due to the good food .Were the Chinese to eat ours they could become the Asian giants of tomorrow.Now thats a selling point to sell.

    • Deco

      We don’t need to send beef to China to make a sale. We can send it a fraction of the distance to accomplish something. But the only thing that is being accomplished currently is the enrichment of the Beef Baron, Tesco and certain gatekeeper functions masquarading as essential to the whole process.

    • BnB

      Larry Goodman (and the Irish state which was giving him free insurance) lost out when he sent beef on credit to Iraq. This was used to feed Saddam Hussein’s army who then lost in the Mother Of All Battles after they invaded Kuwait. The Chinese middle class will lose in the Mother Of All Bubbles when their property market crashes. The first thing to be affected then will be their disposable income that they might currently spend on things like Irish beef precisely because it is expensive and comes from so far away. The lesson from Larry is that it might be a good idea for Irish exporters to demand cash before sending any luxury items to China and to have an exit strategy for when the market collapses.

    • BnB

      Correction: The government was not giving credit insurance to Goodman at the time of the Kuwait invasion although it had done so earlier, and it did rescue the Goodman Group soon afterwards by rushing through legislation to allow it to continue operating. Because of the rescue Larry Goodman was able to take over control again and as a result now has a personal fortune of hundreds of millions of euro.

  18. uchrisn

    Carrefour and Tesco are making big inroads into China for the specific reason of expanded western tastes that are mentioned here. Both sell Irish Cheese – Dubliner I think. That is probably the best route for kerrygold etc to go.
    Perhaps Dunnes could open a few Chinese branches. No joking the other guys are doing very well.

  19. Gege Le Beau


    People have been critical of the failure of Democracy Now, I had my own thoughts, don’t know much about it or the ideological underlining it, but upon reflection I thought “in fairness, well done for trying”.

    • adamabyss

      What happened with them Gege? I have been out of loop a bit. Thanks, Adam.

      • Gege Le Beau

        Attempts to get something off the ground politically hasn’t worked out, caught according to Dunphy and O’Toole by lack of time, for more insight see last nights 11th hour programme on RTE, where the other guest on the panel lashes into them both rather awkwardly, Dunphy gives as good as he gets though in fairness.

        See also here:

        • adamabyss

          I thought Fintan O’Toole’s article was pathetic. He reckoned (or so he said) that he had a moral duty to do something but then because he lost a week or two (due to the election being brought forward), he threw his hat at it. The future of the country for decades to come is at stake and he pulls out because of a change of a few days. Well don’t bother then Fintan and don’t bother writing an article to explain yourself (shamefully) either. We don’t need people like that, all talk, no action, no backbone.

          • adamabyss

            David on the other hand, always seems to put his money where his mouth is. He may not be standing for election but he’s putting in fine efforts to get decent candidates elected.

          • Gege Le Beau

            I find the lack of time a hard one to accept given an election was predicted 6-8 months ago, what I would understand is the failure of those involved to organise sooner which is something different, if that is the case then they were better off not running.

            In any case, I think it better those involved didn’t go forward because people like O’Toole do some service with the pen so to speak, but they are taking heat now for the failure to deliver which is unfortunate, but heartening to see McWilliams and Constantin willing to offer their services for free because independents wouldn’t have the finances to pay for advice which makes me wonder how much advice costs these days :-)

            Problem for O’Toole and others however is the ‘Lee effect’, where people are no longer seen as unbiased but are tarnished whether rightly or wrongly by their political affliations/family connections. Look at a report on the front page of the Irish Times today:

            “Another surprising aspect was the inclusion of four new spokespeople who are not TDs. They are Senator Marc MacSharry from Sligo; two Dublin councillors Mary Fitzpatrick and Jim O’Callaghan, a brother of RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan; and an unelected party member, Averil Power. She is a former special adviser to Ms Hanafin. Ms Power is a candidate for the party in Dublin North East and is married to Fionnán Sheahan, political editor of the Irish Independent.”

            Makes one wonder about the triangle of business, politics and the media.

          • adamabyss

            Fionnán Sheahan is another plonker, as he showed on Vincent Brown one night getting worked up about the poor policeman that nearly got run over outside the Dail by the guy with the cement mixer.

          • Deco

            +1 Fintan O’Toole is a phony, with a hidden agenda and a close buddy relationship with union fat cat bosses.

            +1 Fionan Sheahan is another pretend version of objective analysis with a hidden agenda, and pals in the party. (except the party is over – Cowen has drunk it dry).

          • coldblow

            Thanks Gege for throwing light on the Fionán Sheahan phenomenon. I knew there had to be some angle there.

        • Deco

          The Labour Party were extremely determined to get this election scheduled as soon as possible. We had La Burton telling us that she wanted the Finance Bill through in a week, and that the Dail should sit at night to make it happen. La Burt spent almost an hour moaning about all the bad things that were in the same Finance Bill when it was at the Budget stage in December. The fact is that it became ILP policy to want an election as soon as possible.

          And here is something interesting. Fintan O’Toole was supposedly on board. But O’Toole spent all of the previous decade advocating pro ILP policies, and endorsing the ICTU view on just about everything.

          It sounds to me as if Gilmore knew more than he was letting on. It has always been ILP election strategy to monopolize the protest vote as much as possible, by every means possible.

  20. mcsean2163

    The 33 billion on Anglo is spent.

    Where will we get the 33 billion for the farmers?

  21. Philip

    We are missing the fundamental point that farming/ agribusiness is a smart economy play. It is not just about tractors, sheds and warehouses and marts. That’s small piddling stuff that’ll have no significant margin. You play the volume game the high speciality game to get rich.

    So, smart economy? We need to export farm management, bio-tech, remote management, logistics management. Look at the ESB with ESB consult who mamage orders of magnitude more watts in the US than here. The day of da farmer owning the land and produce and the capital is dead and gone. We should be thinking of food and agrinetworks spread worldwide seeded by the domestic talent and just needs to be educationally tuned.

    I take the example of dairy farming. The quotas are about to dissappear. there are guys out there who just own a milking parlour making links to guys who rare the cows and other who look after the land. This is a global play and gombeen immune.

  22. michaelcoughlan

    Off topic but Hilarious.



  23. Gege Le Beau

    Sunday Tribune gone to the wall, Waterstones in Dublin to close (50 jobs gone) and story Mubarak has been persuaded to leave Egypt, destination Bahrain…….the latter unconfirmed.

  24. Alan42

    I live in Australia . The Chinses are busy buying up farming land here . Whatever the Chinese are doing is worth investigating as they are very smart business people .

    Ireland has no natural resources . Although it is known for two things . One is that is is green and the other is its poets and writers . Ireland should be in on this future farming industry as governments are now falling due to protests on the price of food . We should be out there investing in farming and producing the worlds future food demands and we should be making Ireland a centre of foreign education .

  25. John Q. Public

    Most farmers are educated enough to run their own farms efficiently. They would need qualified managers to run them and make the necessary decisions in order to become fully efficient. Only the younger farmers have the education by and large. Every farm would have to be inspected for efficiency levels, in other words they would have to be shown how to do their job!

    • TalentCoop

      Feel if there’s money to be invested, some of that should be in training – entrepreneur training, marketing and PR training to get Farmers opening to new crops, new products and the production and marketing of same.

      Within rural areas, there’s room for much more creative and pro active tourism – for the life of me it’s hard to understand why every town isn’t engaged in creating an ‘area specific’ annual event or series of same to attract tourists. Ireland is a beautiful country, people love it for it’s greenery, natural beauty, charm, mysticism, food and drink – let’s exploit some of this to create a network of new tourist attracting events in all areas, to create jobs, bring money into the country.

      Rural communities would benefit from a more supportive, Cooperative approach than lots of traditional small holdings working in splendid isolation. Feel support to help maximise existing skills and create new skills and opportunities would be welcomed.

  26. John Q. Public

    Meant to say ‘not educated enough’ above.

  27. SOMK

    Stop if I’m wrong here, but the increase in food costs is being caused by the financial markets trading in them as a commodity and therefore artificially increasing the demand on food http://www.foodpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Food-Bubble-pdf.pdf causing starvation and riots worldwide in 2008 and now, as much as I want the best for this country this is not something that should be celebrated.

  28. bazzert

    As long as the farmers are waving shot guns at hill walkers and tourists they can go hang. Can you imagine if all the money “invested” in farming had been invested elsewhere ?

  29. This is a great idea. A friend and myself wanted to set up an export business based on the extraordinary good quality of Irish meat and produce. Its still a flyer, but only if we can scale it. I promise you, there is demand.

  30. Colin


    Any chance your beloved farming community could start doing the country a favour by ceasing to continue to pollute our streams, rivers & lakes which result from their harmful and destructive practices?

  31. Political Epitaph for Brian Cowen;
    In the immortal words of a certain Mr. Larry Gogan;

    “Sorry Brian, the questions didn’t suit ye!”

  32. adamabyss

    Cowen said ‘or if indeed we succumb to it’ (referring to the recession), today in the Dail. What does he mean by that? What’s the worst case scenario going on in his mind? How exactly would we ‘succumb’? Could anyone do a worse job than they have done? If he thinks I am giving up just because him and his ilk got it so wrong then he’s sadly mistaken. It was a very bizarre public comment to make if you ask me.

    • Adam – Methinks there may have been an egotistical dash of denial in his statement. (My real legacy is that I saved you all from doom! Just in case you didn’t spot it!)
      However there’s a way of checking if he was speaking the truth – What he knows – Lenihan knows – so just ask Lenny.
      If he says we’re doomed then everything will be alright. If on the other hand he asserts that the emergency is over?
      Well then we’re f**ked!

    • Deco

      Well, whatever about “we”, he is getting a massive parachute for being a drunken captain who sailed the ship unto the rocks !!!

  33. Massey Ferguson

    Hi Folks,

    Of any of the comments, that have been made above, the one that resonates most with me is Deco’s explanation of how the system beat the Bio Diesel Farmer.

    There has been and continues to have, the need of a light being shone on ‘Gombeen Ireland’ It must go.

    We should also be careful though of just coming together collectively to complain. I realise it is very tough in Ireland, I just had a friend of mine leave his family to go live in Saudi to pay the bills.
    I would just like to see the illusion of Irish Politics busted in tandem with more positive and solution based dialogue and ideas, at grassroots level.

    BUT this needs to partnered with a more strategic focus on how to beat this culture and dynamic.
    The people of Ireland need to focus on their enrepreneurial spirit. No matter how small or big.

    We need to focus on being more savvy (for ourselves – our families first and foremost and then the local community).

    We need to not concern ourselves not so much with how the system will keep you down and re-educate ourselves as to what is important. No more SKY Sports and learn the value of creative thinking and working hard and sticking at it.

    I firmly believe farms should be kept small as they are in Ireland – by and large.
    Don’t try to go the way of big farms – It is trying to change too much too quick and spoil the fabric of our society.

    Instead, think tanks should come together to form businesses to find a way to facilitate and buy produce of ALL farmers for (i) local markets and then (ii) International markets.

    Let this have a Mission Statment of:
    “Irish Farmers bringing their food DIRECT to You AND The World”

    It is exactly what it says on the tin and everyone will know what it means. “Cut out the Big Retailers” – where possible and existing Channels of Distribution, all with the purpose of spreading the wealth as much as possible, evenly among all involved.

    Idealistic, maybe. But a lot better than some faceless purchaser beating the head off you on price somewhere else in the world.

    As I say It would take some smart and committed guys to put the infrastructure in place but why can someone not start themselves. If enough Irish Farmers got creative in clusters, surely there are a group of people who can provide the commercial smarts to go on a bigger scale. Create a revolution.
    The Irish Farmers Co-Operatives are already in place, so the infrastructure is already half there.

    http://www.aussiefarmersdirect.com.au is such a revolution here in OZ.

    People love it, Yes it is big business but the Monopoly of the big Supermarkets are out of the picture.

    Customers love it’s ‘ideal’ first and foremost, it’s convenience (especially in the city) and the freshness.

    You gotta start somewhere. Come on Ireland,


  34. Tim

    Folks, Regarding Democracy Now and the lack of time, it may be worth pointing out that even the big three established political parties are still not fully prepared for the election. They are still selecting candidates.

    With their massive party machines behind them, they will still be able to run successful campaigns. However, I fully accept that a new party/movement would have all the odds stacked against it.

    Perhaps people’s energies can be channelled into assisting those Dem Now candidates who are actually running, instead of complaining about those who are not.

    I’m going to try.

    Let’s keep at it.

    • Deco

      Tim – Is Joe Behan standing as an Independent in Wicklow ? I reckon you might know because you used to be in regular contact with him.

      I am asking in case people might be able to evaluate what he stands for, and whether he can be trusted. He broke ranks over the various bailouts, and got shunned by the IBEC-ICTU political proxies as a result. If he is outside the IBEC-ICTU proxy options, then maybe he might be accoutable to the people instead of well connected careerists.

  35. Deco

    Listened to Prime Time earlier. Three politicians (FG, ILP, FF) (I list them according to their poll percentages nowadays) trying to “sell hope” as Mark Twain put it. They have been selling hope for the past thirty years. And to be really honest I find Ruairi Quinn extremely patronizing considering he signed the dotted line that got us into the Euro – when the UK and the US were our main trading partners – and now he claims is is not even 0.01% responsible for the mess, and he also launched Phil Flynn into banking to run a bank that was on steriods called BoS(Irl). Then there is Noonan – all he is missing is a round red plastic nose, face paint and a wig of red hair. And some FF TD who is suddenly telling us that there is a new improved FF on offer, and that he is sorry. A real Moe Dick and Larry performance.

    The long and short of it is that they will give you any reform you want as long as it amounts to nothing that detrimental to ICTU and IBEC continuing to be the primary movers in the governing of the country.

    None of them want to repeal that Orwellian defined euphemism that is the “Freedom of information Act”. None of them speak of better management personnel, meritocracy, sacking for incompetence, or rationalizing the overly expansive state system that is looking after everything, and making sure that nothing is looked after at the same time. All three are peddling delusion. Though in fairness to Noonan, he is not dliberately deluding us, as the other two are trying to do.

    And I am sitting there, thinking of all the stupid lemming runs we have had in this country in the last twenty years, and all propelled by the media pressing the pride button and having us yelping around like a collection of stupid fools. And the politicians are still looking for that.

    And even worse that episode has damaged the intellectual state of the society, much much worse than anything we ever experienced in history. And to demonstrate it, we are loaded up with knowitalls whose overall objective is the same as before. This time it will work if the technique is changed, or is somebody different is aped.

    Actually, as James Howard Kunstler likes to tell us – the entire game plan has changed. The whole intellectual basis of the analysis is based on junk ideas that were popular in the 1960s and which are simplistic, lazy and based on flawed economics. And the flawed economics are going to mess everything up.

    Afterwards there was a film clip about subcontractors in the construction sector who have been cheated by gombeen operators who are still in operation. And it was an example once again of the way of doing business in this country is completely flawed.

    You know, if only those turkeys would shut up spoofing and cut out this nonsense of the state shovelling money to gombeens whose business concerns are cheating the taxpayers. I suppose that is something rather unsophisticated. And so, the crisis goes from bad to worse, with only Enterprise Ireland working overdrive to prevent us from facing the wreckage being created by our own arrogance and pride.

    In the end, the pride issue keeps put us in a disaster worse than the one that preceded.

    My only advice, is for all of you to save. Because while there might appear some quick fix solutions, the medium term and long term trends for this society are determinedly abysmal. The leadership has ensured that the nonsense is pervasive, and that the vested interests will get looked after anyway.

    But hey, never mind the disastrous state of affairs – the pride is intact. The veneer will be preserved, as long as pride demands it.

  36. Deco

    Unemployment in Egypt is officially at 20% – and the rate of underemployment is a mirror of this.

    In recent years, manufactured imports from China have caused massive problems for Egypt – increasing employment. This is something that is rarely mentioned. Therefore, we can expect that the new regime will change it’s policies on trade – with perhaps stiffer tariff barriers. This is a threat to the “globalization is always good” intellectual movement that predominates in US third level faculties and many EU funded European faculties also. We should expect to see a repisal of sorts – though this might be an even bigger mistake – because it will turn Egypt inward, and make it fertile ground for a more extremist turn.

    Leave it to the advisors from G-Sucks to transform a real opportunity for some hope for democracy and civil socirty for Egypt to be turned into a disaster.

    What is happening in Egypt, is what the US had to start a war to get in Iraq. If the yanks waited, who knows it might even be possible that Saddam Hussein could end up being toppled at no expense to the US in either the blood of it’s young men or it’s treasury. (Well, what good is that to the military industrial complex).

    I get the suspicion Hillary Clinton is not one bit keen on what is happening, and is saying otherwise. Another lesser reported fact is that Taxed Enough Already TEA Party campaigners who have been advocating an end to military and financial support for this type of third world thug. That is the threat from within – which is always the worst kind of threat to the system.

    • Deco

      Second line should read “increasing unemployment”.

      Don’t expect analysis of the Egyptian situation to be on the dimensions of trade, oil, globalization, dollar printing having an effect on food prices, or anything like that. It will probably focus on Mubarak instead. Media coverage will make every effort to accentuate the positive with respect to anything connected with the holy grail of “consumer confidence”.

    • The ‘Egyptian Revolution’ is more than a national displacement of politics .It is really about the demise of the ruling party in Saudi Arabia and the strengthening of the firm hold by Iran in the whole of the middle east .It may be liken to the orange revolution where no blood was spilled ( almost anyway relatively speaking ) .In this case it could be labeled as moving sand castles .

      This wind of change is so mighty and has arrived like a bang or did it leave like a bang ( as moon wobble exited ? ). Its mark will be forever a catalyst in the history of the middle east and the single initiative to cause to spiral of the price of commodities around the world and the advent of World Inflation to last the next decade.

      Will we see in a few months the departure of the Saudi Royals to Switzerland or even Tullamore ?

  37. Dail Protocol :

    We seem to have an irregular insular mindset to castegate the personal object at the other side of the room .This is typical of Ml Noonan in his old classroom politics and sticks to him like Ballybunnion shell fish .The orators / depities whatever you prefer call them need to develope a protocol to discuss the topic and play the ball only and not the person as we do in this room .The Elected representative should do his work with responsibility and any sleeping detuties removed to another bedroom elsewhere.Time is too precious to waste .

  38. Revolution Hill

    The Hill of Tara has relevance to the Time of NOW we are in.

    In the center of Cairo all this week the hordes of people are all chanting ……Revolution ….Revolution ………….Revolution …. except they say it Arabic as Tara….Tara….Tara

  39. Tim

    Folks, Full Michael Lewis article on Irish crisis in Vanity Fair


    …. and don’t forget to ask candidates what they will do about the extra €7bn due to be flushed down the zombie bank toilet on Feb 28th, when they call to your door.

  40. paulmcd


    Iceland moving UP: http://www.rte.ie/news/2011/0202/iceland-business.html

    Ireland moving DOWN: http://www.rte.ie/news/2011/0202/rating-business.html

    Ireland’s 4-year plan = DISORDERLY DEFAULT (Argentina style)

  41. ex_pat_northerner

    Too many big cheeses in agriculture – if you pardon the pun. Spent a while looking around for different products on the web.
    Best site I could come up with was this..
    Irish craft brewers site.
    I hope there’s a pub beside you does this. enjoy.

    On the topic in question there are too many ifs/buts etc. I would say from the amount of tourists/business people I’ve spoken to seeing animals out in the fields is a new one to them. They are amazed as the standard everywhere else is to house all year round. I think we have to go the small farmer route. Its all well and good talking about economy of scale, but thats cowtowing to EU legislation (eg look at all the abattoirs shutdown over last 20 years .. and yet food poisoning cases are rising) The animals have to be trucked 40/50/60 miles. They’re left in pens crapping all over each other and distressed. But the big abattoirs can afford the standards put in place, and the fines when not meeting all those standards.. plus its dead handy for the supermarkets to pick up truck loads of meat from one place. Genuine traceability down to the herd the meat came from is in place, but we again have Brazilian beef, being processed in Ireland which can be given the moniker Irish beef. We really need to market Irish bananas better.
    People outside Ireland (even the French) love Irish farm produce, but it doesn’t seem as well marketed as it should be, and is rare to find on the continent. Good grassfed steak is way better for you than corn/feedstuff in shed production.

  42. Gege Le Beau

    Despite everything we have been through, I firmly believe the politicians currently touring the country and out canvassing have no idea of the societal consequences of the economic implosion and blanket bank guarantee.

    • Gege Le Beau

      I think events are going to surpass all the posturing and speeches currently taking place, those in the Dail and those about to be elected are irrelevant, this is bigger than all of that. We are entering the next stage, removing the government (an seemingly endless process which has done untold damage) is a mere distraction to the main event.

      • I agree entirely – Can somebody please explain the DENIAL on such a large scale?

        See http://www.claimingourfuture.ie/wp-content/uploads/Questions-Fiinal-Blue_v2.pdf
        This is “Claiming Our Future’s” suggested guide to tackling those Canvassers on your doorstep. Yeah some useful questions there but absent seems to be;

        “Why must the people of Ireland pay the gambling debts of private banks and what are your party going to do both admit this is the case and stop this absolute ridiculous madness?”

        It seems to me that not only do party loyalists not understand the question – but the parties including “Claiming Our Future” don’t even understand the value of the answer!
        Unfortunately it’s not a question that RTE Pravda are allowed push on our politicians for an answer. Instead all I’m hearing is Sinn Fein been plagued with the question “What if you are wrong?”
        When what I’m most afraid of is the likelihood that they are right and nobody is taking the idea seriously!

  43. wills

    Site visitors.

    Link below on investigative article in the recent Vanity Fair magazine / article on the *POnzi scam* which unleashed economic anarchy through out the emerald isle.


  44. Tim

    Deco, Joe Behan has changed his mind and is going to run as an independent.

  45. oe1

    Everything needs to put into a sustainable framework and an example is oil price rises as a result of the crisis in Eqypt. How will a large beef export business work.

    Saw Duncan Stewart and he estimated that 33 billion would be the cost required to upgrade all the buildings both residential and office space to improve energy efficiency by up to 90%. This would be just as worthy as spending the same amount on the agri-business.

    Interestingly, Duncan Steward pointed to huge employment opportunities in food industry but his proposals would be focussed on local production for local needs. Ireland apparently imports 70% of its vegetables for example.

    In my opinion, we need to focus on the low carbon footprint food production. Given that grass fed beef has a much better than grain, if waste products are turned to biogas and wind energy and biodiesl used, our food products would be some of the greenest in the world.

    Exporting this product would have to be offset by the cost of transportation and refrigeration to other parts of the world, which requires fossil fuels. Obviously, the closer to the market the better.

    Personally think that food is the main reason Europe has supported us through the economic crisis. When food inflation rises, then the EU will raise interest rates. Having a large food producer like Ireland is essential for price stability. If we wanted to renegotiate the bank bailout perhaps we could use increased food production as some bargaining tool.

You must log in to post a comment.
× Hide comments