Who are the true allies of the farming community? Some possible answers could be the government, farming organisations, Europe. At this point history however, there may be some scepticism attached to all those answers. How about those who help farmers carry out their trade? Retailers should be an ally, surely?
It's not that clear anymore.
Farmers rely heavily on the fair trading of supermarkets. Without honest pricing and transparent sales agreements, the relationship between farmers and the stores they supply will turn toxic. Some of you may believe this toxicity is already rampant.
Just this week, farmers protested outside a Tullamore food retailer in anger and discontent at price cuts. The shop in question was Aldi, one of the larger European food giants. Together with Lidl, Aldi stocks its shelves with a high percentage of Irish agri-goods. It brags in its television adverts, featuring wholesome-looking farmers who seem like they could almost be your neighbour as they stroll along their farmland, that their store's meat is 100% Irish.
Beef prices have been cut in these large chains. Irish beef farmers are struggling massively with these incessant decreases in profit. They say the cuts are unjustified, and that they're being shortchanged by the big players. Beef is now back to €3.75/kg from €4.10. That vital 35c/kg is pushing farmers into a loss-making situation.
Protests cropped up across the island of Ireland last year as milk prices plummeted. Tesco's pricing meant that it cost farmers more to produce a litre than consumers were paying for that same milk. Cows were brought into shopping aisles, milk was spilt and tractors blocked carparks. Somewhat negligible changes were made, and the protests stopped.
The relationship being described, the tension and the stress, isn't what one would call a relationship between two allies. It sometimes doesn't seem like supermarkets are our friends.
However, consumers can often think that big stores are superfans of Irish producers. "Buy Irish!" "Check out our purely-Irish beef, born and reared on Irish soil!" Little do they know that the prices are plummeting. Of course, you could argue that these prices are necessary for these chains to survive, but that's a hard pill to swallow for farmers when you see more and more large retailers popping up.
A lot of the large supermarkets will have stalls at this year's Ploughing Championships, much like every year. This camaraderie is warm and welcoming. They have stalls just like us! They're equal to us! Except, maybe they're not. If they have the power to drag prices offered to farmers this low, then it's hard to feel the warmth of that friendship.
Even president of the IFA Joe Healy has accused retailers of 'using' farmers. Aldi's responses to the cuts was met with a statement from Healy: "Retailers’ claims about sustainability are meaningless without a sustainable price back to farmers.”
He said that the store markets 'our top quality beef to consumers, pretending they are returning a fair price to the farmer', and for this they are 'guilty'.
It can be hard to know who to trust, especially in a business environment such as agri-food trading. Farmers are struggling, and it seems that big retailers are one of group of friends who won't be there to support them.