Farmers join climate activists in protest to ‘safeguard family farms’

Coalition accused of encouraging growth at expense of environment and small farmers

Climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion Ireland and small farmers have united to demonstrate outside the Department of Agriculture on Friday in pursuit of better supports for family farms.

Extinction Rebellion Ireland spokesman Paul McCormack Cooney said they wanted to highlight the Coalition’s lack of support for family farms.

They were joined by farmers who wanted to underscore “how the Government is complicit in encouraging constant growth within the agricultural sector, at the expense of the environment and small farmers’ quality of life”.

Extinction Rebellion Ireland called for adequate policy change and a just transition, particularly in the context of changes to the common agricultural policy (Cap). Changes have been agreed by EU negotiators in Brussels on Friday, bringing an end to three years of negotiations on the Cap. The altered agricultural policy will absorb about one-third of the bloc's 2021-2027 budget, spending €387 billion on payments to farmers and support for rural development.


However, the Cap has consistently failed to reward farming practices compatible with climate action, said Mr McCormack Cooney – while climate campaigners and small farmers have expressed concern over incentives for growth.

In a video letter titled Dear Farmers, we need your help, Extinction Rebellion Ireland rejected the notion that there is a bad blood between farmers and environmentalists.

“Most beef farmers in Ireland are surviving on subsidies and a second off-farm job to supplement their income, not making money from their cattle,” it added.

“Dairy farmers are not much better off, with cow herds double the size their parents had but earning half the money. A very small percentage of mega-farms do very well out of the current system, while all the small and medium-sized family farms are left struggling,” it noted.

“In Ireland, agriculture is the largest single source of gross greenhouse gas emissions . . . farmers, however, also have access to the greatest technology we have to remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, the land itself,” it emphasised.

Extinction Rebellion Ireland called for a new food system that supports farmers in reducing the herd size and rewards them for capturing greenhouse gases through rewilding and diversifying the land.

Farmer Gerry Loftus of the Rural Ireland Organisation told protesters: "Farming organisations and some politicians, especially independents, are leading farmers in the wrong direction on climate emissions and Cap. We must have a proper livelihood for farmers, we must be climate and environmentally friendly in doing so. Farming organisations need to realise this affects every human being on the planet."

Mr Loftus said that “climate activists see our point of view. They know the dangers and acknowledge all farmers are not the same”.

ICMSA to ‘reach out’

Separately, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) extended a cautious welcome to the announcement by climate activists that they intend to "reach out" to farming communities.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack said: “ICMSA stands ready to engage with anybody or any group that understands . . . the nature of the challenge that transitioning our farming and food sector to a more environmentally sustainable basis involves.

“We understand what has to happen and where we have to get to, what we need in return is some signal that environmentalists understand that there are social, economic, demographic and cultural elements to this process as well. Just concentrating on one, the environment, to the absolute exclusion of the others, will make that transition infinitely more difficult – if not impossible.”

Mr McCormack said all sides, especially consumers, needed to acknowledge there was a glaring misconception “ that all the change that has to happen is going to leave retail prices unchanged”.

Consumers are encouraged in this misconception “by both the corporate retailers – who have dictated food policy in Ireland and the EU for decades – and our politicians who seem too nervous to break the news to the consumers that change of the scale that’s envisaged is going to mean . . . food prices will rise”.

If climate activists involved in the Dear Farmer campaign accept that proposition, then “we will have taken a giant step forward towards establishing the common ground that ICMSA wants”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times