Environment 'for farmers to deal with'
How farmers respond to environmental challenges is a matter for them, not for him, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has said.
The Minister was speaking at the IFA conference Growing the agri-food Sector Sustainably - an event discussing sustainable climate plans for the sector.
Commending the ambitions set by Food Harvest 2020, the agri-industry's blueprint for development, the Minister said success must be based on economic and environmental sustainability.
“The imperative of responding to the environmental challenge of your sector is primarily a matter for you - not me,” he told delegates.
He said while policy and regulation would play an important role and the Government “would not be lacking” in that regard, it was in the best interest of farmers themselves “to have a robust and sustainable pathway worked out, sooner rather than later”.
“If you as a sector fail to look beyond a compliance-based approach to protecting the natural resources on which the success of your business and your livelihoods depend, I find it hard to believe that you will achieve the level of ambition you have set for yourself in Food Harvest 2020,” he said.
He said of even greater concern was that the foundation on which farming grows would “prove uncompetitive on environmental grounds” in an evolving green economy.
Farmers had to demonstrate “unquestionable credentials” in environmental sustainability, he continued - otherwise the achievement of “your own ambition under Food Harvest 2020 will be compromised at the outset”.
Tackling water pollution from agricultural activities would give farmers an opportunity to “reinforce your environmental credentials”.
IFA president John Bryan said growth in the agri-food sector was being sustainably achieved, with the beef sector in Ireland having the lowest carbon footprint in the EU and emissions per litre of milk reduced by over 13 per cent since 1990.
He warned that sustainability initiatives had to be focused on “delivering improved returns for farmers…as well as environmental improvements”.
He said the IFA favoured “sectoral plans” to tackle climate change, not “meaningless, target-driven legislation”.
Minister Hogan and his officials, he said, “have set the bar too high when they say carbon neutrality should be the approach for agriculture”.
Carbon neutrality could not be achieved based on current accounting methods, and State purchasing of carbon credits had to form part of the solution.
While farmers remained willing to respond, he said, the Government had to “at least meet us half way” with policy.