Speaking at the Tullamore Show this week the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said that he is of a mind to introduce some form of grant scheme in order to help change the mindset of farmers regarding the safety standards achieved within their businesses. And all of this is extremely laudable. But, in a very fundamental way, this approach overlooks the elephant in the room, which is this: we are all human beings, prone to taking the easy option whenever possible and will only take a specific course of action when the threat of sanctions is applied.

Fundamentally, we all know that there is a core health and safety issue to be addressed within Irish agriculture. And solving it will take a lot more than changing farmers’ mindsets. In my opinion, the required actions will only be taken if producers know they will be hit in the pocket, as a matter of course, if their farm yard safety measures are not up to scratch. One possible way of doing this is to include agreed farm safety standards as an integral part of the cross compliance criteria adopted for the new Pillar One CAP support arrangements.

If this approach is taken, farmers will be given a clear set of safety guidelines, which they must implement in order to comply fully with the new support measures. And when this is found not to be the case, then the farmers concerned run the risk of being penalised a certain percentage of their Single Farm Payment. In addition to this the Health and Safety Authority retains the right to prosecute the aforementioned farmers, should this approach be deemed necessary.

The reality is that agriculture is currently the most dangerous profession on earth. Construction used to hold this dubious title until the necessary steps were taken by governments around the world to sort that sector out.

Safety on our farms is a very emotive issue. But, one farm death is one fatality too many. And anything that can be done to prevent serious injury and death from occurring on our farms should be considered.