7 November 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

An important IFA-organised seminar held in Monaghan last week served as a timely reminder of the abiding importance of our county’s poultry industry as a contributor to both the local and national agricultural economy.

Those unfamiliar with the extent of activity in the sphere and who may have nurtured an impression of torpidity if not decline in its local operation given the fate that befell Monaghan Poultry Products and some of the country’s other processing outlets over recent years would have been taken aback at the buzz of activity that presaged the business of the seminar in its Four Seasons Hotel locale.

An impressive gathering of farmers representative of a diversity of poultry activity engaged with a mini-galaxy of suppliers and trade representatives whose stands presented a picture of the industry as a technologically complex and progressive one – with a reliance on efficiency and quality that creates a hectic playground for innovation.

The mood of the seminar itself was also upbeat: demand for poultry in US and European export markets is rising, and there are encouraging signs that the legislative loopholes that for long have admitted inferior quality imports to our shores are at last beginning to narrow towards closure.

While price and profitability continue to preoccupy producers at a time when food safety requirements and environmental legislation are both limiting operating scale and increasing expense, the keynote sound of the night was that encouraging one made when opportunity starts knocking.

Monaghan poultry farmers are being encouraged to develop, and this is positive news for our local economy. It is also not a particularly hard sell given the innate progressiveness that has propelled activity in this sector in our own county and neighbouring Cavan to a position of national predominance.

The direction that development should take is what requires persuasion, as it is one that must embrace clean energy alternatives and associated efficiencies, and the many checks and balances attendant to implementation of the increasingly governing ethos of sustainability.

We do not, of course, suggest that Monaghan poultrypeople are negligent of these considerations. They have long embraced their principles, fostering a reputation for quality that has not only fireproofed the Irish poultry product against the inferno of globalisation but has also set some of the standards that the agri-food sector are now trying to make compulsory throughout its workings.

But going doing this road must make good sense to people whose family livelihoods are dependent on the future investment choices they make.

As Monaghan’s Nigel Renaghan, National Chairman of the IFA Poultry Committee, stated: “Sustainability is important but so is profitability and as farmers our main concern is profitability. For a long time we have been working with very little profits, if any at all.”

Bord Bia’s plans to extend their Origin Green sustainability programme to the poultry sector are admirable, but they will have to be carefully cognisant of the particular market pressures that farmers in this area are under in tailoring the concept to their needs.

The argument that sustainable production methods are integral to food reputation in the modern era, and reputation is the cornerstone of success for food businesses, is patent and persuasive. But buy-in to the demands of the Bord Bia programme will only become widespread in an industry where quality is already the mantra if tangible market rewards are demonstrated as being an inevitable consequence.

An excellent example of the merits of the Bord Bia initiative resides close at hand in Monaghan Mushrooms, which has put it into practice throughout its operations in a way demonstrable of its value to producer as well as processor.

Sadly our own poultry sector no longer has close at hand a large-scale processing outlet for its product that could form a comparable nucleus around which a structured sustainability regime could naturally form. This makes even more damning in retrospect the lack of interest displayed by the Government of the day in attempting to stave off the closure of Monaghan Poultry Products or secure a replacement activity for its plant.

Whether the limited number of processing outlets now open to Irish poultry producers will take on themselves the role of “leading from the front” in making the sustainability ethos as all-encompassing of the sector as Bord Bia would wish remains to be seen.

Perhaps conscious of the potential leadership deficit, Mr Renaghan and his national committee have admirably moved to secure for their members a share for the first time of the TAMS scheme of grant aid for on-farm improvements. Although the initial portion available to the poultry sector from this funding source is relatively modest – in the region of €17 million out of an overall kitty of €395 million – producers have been afforded opportunities to carry out a wide range of investments with the potential to make their poultry houses and other elements of production more energy efficient. Costs cut by making heating, lighting and water supply savings increase profit margins, and tangible rewards are demonstrated to flow from making improvements compatible with “green” thinking.

In this way, the sustainability philosophy can be disseminated through the poultry sector from the bottom up. If the IFA can deliver on the promise of its Regional Development Committee Executive Secretary Gerry Gunning to have TAMS tailored in a more poultry-friendly way as its various tranches progress, and if the Association can secure a little bit more of its bounty for poultry as time goes on, it could be an important contributor to the sustainable expansion of the sector and much needed growth in the Co Monaghan agricultural economy.

Sustainability also takes hold through education, and Minister for Arts Culture and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys is to be commended for identifying the need for the development of training courses specifically modelled to the requirements of the local poultry sphere.

The Minister knows that she will be knocking on an open door when she goes to the Cavan Monaghan Education and Training Board to discuss the delivery of these programmes.

There is scope for a beneficial engagement between the Minister, Mr Renaghan and the ETB with the potential to lead to a linkage being formed between the county’s poultry producers and the Monaghan Education Campus to the benefit of our local economy.

Through considered investment, embrace of training initiatives and balancing the scales of sustainability and profitability, the potential for a bright future lies before our county’s poultry industry. We are sure its practitioners will not let the sound of opportunity knocking go unheeded.

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