Where do we go from here?- the current state of Irish Agriculture.

Image Credit: Hannah Woods

Hannah Woods discusses the potential and pitfalls of the Irish agriculture industry.

With tensions continuing to rise within the sector, be it in relation to climate change, nitrate restrictions or CAP losses, Irish agriculture is at a standstill. The main focus shifting away from increasing the country's overall production outputs have ceased. We are now looking towards strategies to improve farm efficiency, profitability and most importantly the sustainability of Irish agriculture. But with Irish farmers facing immediate threats with the likes of payment cuts and the cap on suckler numbers, the only thing on the agenda for the government is to preach immediate and counterproductive measures to the Irish farmer. These unprecedented challenges not only need to be addressed rationally, but a round the table discussion needs to be had between government bodies and the farming community being affected by it all. 

The lack of representation and future planning are the main drivers of frustration, leaving families in the dark with thousands of rural communities likely to be affected. Farmers know what they have to do in terms of emissions reduction, water quality improvements, reforesting for carbon sequestration and biodiversity plans at a farm level, yet they are still the ones portrayed as the cause of environmental damage to the rest of the country. This is not assisted by the fact that the government renders the sectors image in this light, be it them who are now driving the importation of goods that can be sourced in Ireland such as peat, overall increasing the Islands emission output. 

These unprecedented challenges not only need to be addressed rationally, but a round the table discussion needs to be had between government bodies and the farming community being affected by it all.

For the people working hands-on within the sector, be it in research, for a representative authority, or on farm, we know the worth of the industry and the drivers of change within it. From low emission slurry spreading, use of clover and multispecies swards, improving feed efficiency, genetics of the herd be it in dairy or beef, where improvements are not just being discussed but being driven forward by the interest and eagerness of the farmer. It is the backing by the government that remains to be the problem. The Agri-Food strategy 2030 pushes the sector to become carbon neutral by 2050, with an annual reduction of 7% in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. The government is looking at a drastic percentage cut to the national herd as the only means to reach these targets, however a decrease of 10% to 15% could have detrimental effects to both national and local economies. Especially in some parts of Ireland where a cap on suckler numbers would take away not only an income but a way of life for the majority. 

we know the worth of the industry and the drivers of change within it

While the government is seemingly trying its best, it is not them that will be affected in the long run. Whatever decisions are made now be it in relation to the carbon tax fund, nitrates on dairy farms or the overall CAP agenda for 2027 it is the farmers livelihood at stake. At the end of the day, it is us as the consumer driving the farmer to reach these limits be it in per head production, milk yield or land usage, and we should be a supportive backbone on which Irish farmers can lean upon.