Hannah Woods details the opportunities presenting themselves to producersimplementing fundamental changes to their systems.
2020 will without a doubt be known as a year where many have had to grow and adapt,
succumb to new methods of living and change the nature by which we work, live and
socialise. We never thought that we’d be able to survive this new normal back in March,
however, with 2021 looming we have graciously accepted the challenge and all be it with
minor bumps along the way, we have survived. Take from the year what you must, but it
should be seen as a chance to embrace change and with that, to grow and adapt to a new
The discomfort we perceive when new concepts and teachings are brought forward is a
normal and now an all too familiar feeling. However, we have seen that new changes can
bring about better outcomes and a better way of life, from the reduced time spent
commuting, the abundant time spent with loved ones in lockdown, to an alternate and
diverse way of farming. We have seen how with the world ultimately coming to a standstill in
April as daily carbon emissions were down by 17% on that time last year. Following this was
an improvement in air quality, cleaner beaches, and environmental noise reduction.
Agricultural work, however, never stopped and nothing can be said about the environment
without taking into account the agricultural impacts.
This changed world could also be an opportunity to grow and diversify the way we farm.
This changed world could also be an opportunity to grow and diversify the way we farm. In
Ireland, agriculture accounts for 32% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to the fact
that agriculture plays such an important role in the Irish economy and the country’s lack of
heavy industry. Currently, initiatives and environmental obligations are being used to combat
climate change in the sector and respond to agriculture's role in the situation, from GLAS,
CAP, and FoodWise 2025 to the Nitrates Directives and BPS greening payments. €879
million has been put aside for farm supports and €628 million for the RDP in Budget 2021.
With a 4% drop in emissions related to slurry spreading and manure management, farmers
are now investing heavily in low emission slurry spreading equipment which will bring about
a further and stable reduction in emissions.
However as important as they are, new and alternative schemes are being put in place which could generate a stronger impact. Project Ireland 2040, which focuses on creating stronger rural economies and communities, is looking at building sustainable rural communities, as they are seen as the engine of
economic recovery. This idea of self-sufficiency goes back to a more traditional view of
farming for a community rather than farming for an industry. This project looks to promote
and optimise our natural amenities. By investing €1 billion over 10 years this movement will
unleash the true potential of the rural community, advancing in areas such as organic
farming, permaculture and agroforestry which will not convalesce but thrive and become a normal part of sustainable agriculture In Ireland. These organic, bio-diverse and low impact farming methods not only work with the soil but also create resilience in animals and cropping against stress and extreme weather.
These organic, bio-diverse and low impact farming methods not only work with the soil but also create resilience in animals and cropping against stress and extreme weather.
With organic farming having firmly grounded a foot in Irish soil, despite low numbers, there is
a tremendous opportunity to diversify into the sector, with an increase of 34% interest in
consumers buying organic and a 40% drop of emissions in an organic system. At a larger
farming scale, more 'out there' ideas of farming, such as biodynamic and permaculture, may
not seem valid or reasonable when trying to support a livelihood. Farming like this has made
huge strides across Europe, America and in Australia where green pasture movements have
seen massive changes being taken by a small group of dairy farmers with a common goal of
viable, sustainable and natural farming. These methods of farming look to reverse the worst
consequences of climate change, biodiversity loss, and polluted waters, while building a
stronger community and environment to support future generations.
Although change can be daunting, 2020 has taught us that unexpected change can allow us
to grow and diversify as a population and a community. This too should be the case for
sustainable farming. With strides now being taken by the government, rural communities are
being given this opportunity. It is now in the hands of the farmer and the community to be put
it into action.