My relationship with farming is lifelong and enduring. It is both a passion and policy priority. I love the countryside, the people, the produce of the land and the sheer bliss of being able to walk the fields and savour the delights of nature and wildlife.
The less savoury aspects involve childhood memories of picking potatoes in freezing weather, of moving cattle, of young calves that wouldn't obey our commands, of having to work after school when other children were free to play sport or watch TV.
As I grew up there were other disappointments of farm life, animal diseases and the havoc they cause, of growing vegetables only to see the market collapse, of disappointing prices and of uncontrollable weather impacts.
Now working on the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament, I have real experience and insight into the ups and downs of farm life across Europe. If anything, my appreciation of, and respect for those who produce the food we eat has grown deeper.
Family farms are main agriculture form in EU and worldwide
Family farming is the main form of agriculture in the European Union and worldwide. There are over 400 million family farms in the world – in Ireland we have 139,800 such farms contributing an enormous amount to rural communities and to our economy.
The O’Brien family farm (pictured above) is one such example. On my invitation, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Cioloş, visited the farm where he met Angela and Martin O'Brien and their son, William.
The UN has designated this year - 2014 - as International Year of Family Farming.
It is more than symbolic; it is a call to action to those who are concerned about food production and food security to see how we can encourage and support the family farm structure.
A vital component of our society and economy
Family farms are the foundations on which the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was built.
The vital role which family farming and the food sector can play in economic recovery and the building of a more sustainable economic model for the future is now better understood and appreciated. There is a growing awareness and respect across Europe for the farming and food sector as a vital component of our society and our economy.
However, the challenge of feeding a growing world population by producing food in a sustainable way is enormous. Farmers are being asked to produce more, but to use fewer resources. They are being asked to manage our landscape and environment with ever-changing demands and rules. Sometimes these rules fail to take account of the family farm structure and act as a disincentive to families and these issues need to be addressed.
Key objectives 2014 to support family farms
This is a year to focus on the family farm model and how it provides the world with food to eat and a landscape to enjoy.
There are four key objectives for the 2014 International Year of Family Farming:
- Support the development of policies conductive to sustainable family farming;
- Increase knowledge, communication and public awareness;
- Attain better understanding of the needs, potential and constraints of family farming and ensure technical support;
- Create synergies for sustainability.
These objectives are valid for all farming families whether in the developed world or the developing world and we all need to work towards achieving them.
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