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The stakeholder group led by Tom Arnold has adopted a new Agri Food Strategy for the next decade. The strategy and its accompanying environmental impact assessment are now subject to a public consultation.

ICOS actively participated in the stakeholder group led by Jerry Long, the ICOS President. We reviewed and analysed the documents when they were presented, consulted with our members and engaged constructively in the process. Nobody benefits from grandstanding or walking away from the table, especially stakeholders that are truly committed to rural Ireland and its rural communities.  There are elements of the strategy where we raised concerns but overall, we endorse the report and its central themes.

The environmental challenges facing agriculture including greenhouse gas emissions, ammonia, water quality and biodiversity are dealt with comprehensively in the draft report. But the primary producer is equally important and must be valued for their contribution to producing healthy, nutritious and safe food.  We have a journey to embark upon over the next decade and it is important that the burden is shared across society by all.

It is extremely concerning to observe the growing narrative targeting the farming community in the climate debate. I was struck by the recent comments by Michael Mann in the Sunday Business Post; Michael Mann is the respected climatologist, known for depicting the risks of runaway climate change through his famous “hockey-stick” graph published in 1999.  He spoke about the concept of climate doomism and disinformation, spread by interests linked to the fossil fuel industry.

Those that dismiss scientific solutions and research, in favour of overly simplistic answers such as herd reduction, in my view, are falling into the trap of climate doomism. I also fear, it could serve to demotivate a large cohort of society, if the debate around climate change becomes lop-sided and focussed on issues like the size of the national herd.  As co-ops embedded in the rural community, we can’t afford to let this happen and we won’t be walking away from the challenges that face agriculture and wider society.

The key message from ICOS is that many of the climate efficiency measures are doable from a farmer’s perspective. For example, improved breeding, using protected urea, incorporating clover, spreading slurry using a trailing shoe, feeding a lower crude protein ration etc. The “doability” of the measures must be reinforced by all stakeholders across the industry, working together, through the new Signpost Farm Initiative, which will be launched next month.

We must also consider the following:

  • the significant contribution made by the Irish dairy sector to the rural and national economy, exports and the provision of employment.
  • the competitive advantage of our grass-based production system and the low carbon footprint of the sector based on international comparisons, and the associated risk of carbon leakage.
  • the contribution made by the Irish agri-food and dairy sector to global food security and supply of healthy nutrition.
  • the scope for new research and technologies to drive mitigation in agriculture, accurate accounting of methane emissions and the accounting of carbon sequestration in national inventories post 2030.

This month’s newsletter touches upon the range of crucial issues facing Irish agriculture, many of which are covered in the new Agri Food Strategy. Following the publication of the Climate Action Bill at national level last month, we report that the EU are moving forward with new and more ambitious climate targets. We also report on the debate taking place around the future of live exports at EU level and the crucial CAP negotiations, which are nearing the final hurdle.  

Eamonn Farrell – Agri Food Policy Executive