Maybe it’s due to Covid-19, or maybe it’s just a sign of a changing Ireland, but the days when Irish people studied the budget forensically for every change to the pension or the price of diesel seem to have disappeared.
At least that is the way it appears from talking to farmers attending the sheep sale at Macroom Mart in Co Cork on Wednesday, where only a handful said they had been following Budget 2021 very closely.
Several farmers were fatalistic about the budgetary changes announced by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath, while others cut short any approach on the issue with a toss of their heads and a quick “I know nothing about it”.
Of those who did seem exercised about it as they brought their lambs and rams for sale, the one change that did seem to register was the increase in carbon tax which, according to estimates, will add an extra €1.51 to a 60-litre fill of diesel.
Farmer Tom O’Keeffe from Castletownroche in north Co Cork had travelled to Macroom to sell four pedigree Charollais rams and was expecting to get a good price, but said he felt aggrieved over the carbon tax.
“It will add about €5 a week to my diesel bill, but what annoys me most about the budget is that the farmer is being penalised for greenhouse gas emissions but it seems there is no recognition that farmers can help tackle the problem.
“Farmers have the ability to reduce carbon for them – every tree we plant is sequestering carbon but they won’t pay us to plant trees around our farms that could help reduce carbon emissions.
“I have boundary ditches where I would gladly set 100 trees . . . but I’m not getting paid for it.”
He welcomed funding for a food ombudsman – but only if they can examine the entire food chain from farm gate to kitchen plate and have the power to examine the entire price structure underlying food production.
“I am producing lamb at €5.40 a kilo but the consumer is paying €15-€20 for lamb – there is a huge mark-up from the time it leaves my farm gate, and the meat factories have a monopoly and that has to be looked at.”
Fellow farmer Owen Riodanhad come from nearby Carrigadrohid. Like O’Keeffe, he felt the food ombudsman needs to be able to look at the entire price structure if farmers are to benefit in any way.
“I hope the ombudsman has the teeth to tackle food imports coming from God-knows-where and he needs to look at price of diesel too – there are so many people taking a slice of what we’re producing that there is nothing left for the farmer.
“I haven’t studied the budget closely but it seems to me that there aren’t any great bonuses in it for the farmer – I think they have forgotten the countryside and we, as farmers, are a forgotten cause.
“What’s the point in putting a carbon tax on diesel and hitting the man who is trying to produce something when they are doing nothing for our roads where you have potholes that you could be killed [by], if you fell into them.”
Murt Murphy had come from Rylane in mid-Cork to buy lambs for fattening on his holding where he rears sheep and cattle.
He said: “It [The budget] wasn’t too bad overall – I know the carbon tax will put up the price of diesel but overall I thought it was a good budget given the times we’re living in – we knew in advance what was coming so there were no great surprises.”
Fachtna O’Driscoll from Castletownshendin west Co Cork was also somewhat philosophical about the budget, though he conceded that while the carbon tax wouldn’t hugely affect his diesel bill directly, it would add to his costs.
“What diesel I use myself is small enough but it will hit contractors and they will pass it on to farmers – lamb prices weren’t bad today but you’d want every bit of it – it’s queer times and we just have [to] try and keep our best side out.”