Potential changes to the use of certain pesticides which counter the risk of potato blight in the region are currently before the European Parliament, much to the concern of Kilkenny-based MEP Liam Aylward.
“I’ve put through 20 amendments on the proposed legislation, which, if carried through without any amendment, could have serious implications for potato farmers in South Kilkenny, as well as into Waterford and South Tipperary,” he said last Thursday.
Speaking to this newspaper in Brussels, Mr Aylward said the protection of large and smaller scale growers (Iverk Produce being the primary example in his political base) was of paramount importance.
“If we moved from a risk base to a hazard base as has been proposed, then a farmer would be left with nothing to spray against blight,” he added, when outlining the worst case scenario.
“And you know how emotive that would be for growers in Mooncoin, Piltown and beyond.”
He continued: “The legislation we’re talking about is being led by the French Presidency [of the EU] and it’s very, very severe. And if the pesticides used commonly and safely by our local growers are taken off the market, then we’ve nothing to replace them with – and that’s huge.”
So what lies ahead? “Until such time as there are alternatives available, then we have to think practically about this,” added Mr Aylward.
“Of course, I want to see sprays and pesticides off the market, but when there’s nothing there to readily replace them, then a bit of common sense in the short to medium term is surely the most prudent approach to adopt, especially when it comes to protecting local livelihoods.”
Significant changes to farm production at such an economically sensitive time also had to be considered, he warned.
“If this proposal was passed without the amendments it requires in my view and given the relative scarcity of certain foodstuffs in Europe at the moment, then food prices could go sky high.
“I’m pushing strongly on this and I’ve got to push strongly on this, because this is very serious for our potato farmers.”