Simon Lanigan argues that current environmental policies aren’t doing enough to protect farmers’ livelihoods and the rural economy
The Agricultural and Food sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, supporting over 165,000 jobs and over 13 billion euro worth of exports. The sheer scale of the industry to this country results in it accounting for 35.5% of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Within this figure, livestock ruminants can be accounted for 80% with methane emissions being the main contributor. However, the sector has been coming under pressure from both governmental and societal pressure to reduce this figure. Unfortunately, not always in a fair and realistic way.
It is fair to say that farmers feel unfairly treated and misrepresented when it comes to this discussion due to the negative press in which they have been receiving recently
According to the new ‘Climate Action Plan’ released by the government in recent weeks, the Irish agricultural sector is required to reduce emissions by 22-30% from a base of 23 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in order to reach the set out targets. Such measures identified to deliver these emission reductions are improved animal breeding, early finishing age of cattle, increased organic farming and improved nutrient management planning. Many of which are already taking place on Irish farms.
It is fair to say that farmers feel unfairly treated and misrepresented when it comes to this discussion due to the negative press in which they have been receiving recently. Although a recent survey carried out by Agri Aware stated that some 94% of the participants believed Irish agriculture was important to the economy, only 16% of adults have a good understanding of the agricultural industry which bridges a significant disconnect between the consumer and the producer. This highlights a clear lack of true understanding for Irish farming and the way in which it operates.
There is no doubt that change is needed when it comes to the issue of climate change and the promotion of a greener, better and more sustainable environment. Farmers are always willing to do the best that they possibly can in order to produce food that is of the highest quality standards. However, we need to look at the overall picture and not the negative outlook in which the media are focusing on. For example, when we look at 35.5% of total GHG emissions as mentioned above, that figure fails to indicate the carbon sequestration from the miles of hedgerows and trees on farms throughout the country where carbon is captured from the atmosphere and stored. Some estimate this figure of carbon sequestration to be around 12 million tonnes of CO2, which would in-fact reduce the 35.5% to approximately 18%. If the exact figure of carbon sequestration was calculated and legislation allowed for it to be included, it could then be reduced from the overall tonnes of carbon from the industry, resulting in a decrease in the amount of carbon related to the agricultural sector. However, while the current situation remains, farming is still seen as an emitter of green-house gas emissions and not a producer of sustainable and high quality food.
To add to this, recent Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) negotiations have added fear amongst rural family farms who survive off such payments. Teagasc research shows that only one third of Irish farms are economically viable, as a result of this, it’s important that these new policies don’t affect the income and viability of these farmers and their families. Due to that clear lack of income, it makes it hard for a lot of farmers to do more for the environment without financial aid, given their income status. A KPMG analysis has shown that a 30% reduction target in GHG emissions is going to mean a €3.8 billion hit for the rural economy, which will have detrimental effects for family farms.Originally, CAP was used to support farmers to produce food. However, it has become a diminishing part of the EU Budget while increased objectives have been added to it. The new CAP is basically asking farmers to do an awful lot more for an awful lot less.
There is no doubt that change is needed when it comes to the issue of climate change and the promotion of a greener, better and more sustainable environment
To break it down, CAP funding is divided into two pillars. Pillar one, which includes the basic payment scheme (single farm payment) and Pillar two, which funds schemes to do with the environment. Under new proposals, 30% of Pillar one payments are going to be allocated to ‘eco-schemes’ with farmers now being required to carry out additional environmental actions in order to receive what was their basic payment. Furthermore, farmers with higher entitlements per hectare are now possibly facing a cut in their basic payments even if they take part in these ‘eco-schemes’. This will likely occur if the decision is made to pay farmers on a per hectare basis instead of as a percentage of each farmers entitlement per hectare basis. Other suggestions have also been identified from policy makers such as the nitrate banding of cows based on their production level which caps the stocking rate on farms. Once again, negatively impacting farmers.
These proposals put forward are simply devastating for farmers
There is no wonder why farmers feel infuriated by these decisions being made by the government. These proposals put forward are simply devastating for farmers. Our social license to farm is coming under extreme pressure from government decision makers and unfortunately, it is without a doubt that agriculture is taking the rap for other industries too. Solutions can be reached, but only if people work with farmers instead of against.