Farmers in 30 towns nationwide held a "day of action" to protest over European Union Common Agricultural Policy reform proposals and what they claim is the detrimental impact of the Government's climate action plan.
The protests were the first large-scale demonstration by the Irish Farmers’ Association since the outbreak of the pandemic last year.
The IFA said that the objective of the protest was to emphasise the importance of agriculture in rural towns.
Negotiations to set the rules on how the EU will dole out €387 billion in Cap farming subsidies and rural development funds over the next seven years broke up without agreement last month.
With talks now dragging on for three years, the main point of impasse is how to reconcile subsidies generally with climate goals designed to protect biodiversity and slash emissions.
IFA president Tim Cullinan has expressed his concern that the position of the Climate Action Bill and the direction of Cap could sound the death knell for commercial farming in Ireland.
“We will be making a strong statement across the country today that policies must support our largest indigenous industry,” he said.
“A cohort of farmers, many of whom are the most productive farmers, are being hit with huge cuts under the Cap.
“In addition, the Climate Bill, the subsequent carbon budgets and sectoral targets could result in huge additional regulation being imposed on the same group of farmers.We will not accept any attempt to remove credits from our sector.”
The Climate Action Bill, which is currently going through the Dáil, commits the State to halving of carbon emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 in law and proposes five-year carbon budgets set by Government.
In Cork, about 30 farmers attended a "day of action" in their tractors in the town of Bandon.
Harold Kingston, who farms in Courtmacsherry in west Cork and is the IFA Munster regional chair, said farmers were anxious about the future viability of the sector.
“The current Cap discussions are taking the focus off keeping farms viable and instead are making us jump through hoops to try and do environmental measures, which we have no problem in doing except we have no guarantee of being paid for those. Those environmental measures do have a cost,” he said.
“We are also focusing on the Climate Bill. We need to make sure that the biogenic methane – the methane produced by cows is recognised as being completely different to emissions coming from cars and industry.
“As a low emission producer of food it needs to be recognised that if we stop producing here to cut emissions in this country it could actually result in an increase in emissions somewhere else.”
Mr Kingston said Ireland needed to stand up for its farmers.
“A third of farmers in Ireland are currently viable. A third are sustainable because of having another source of income be it a family member or themselves and a third are vulnerable.
“What needs to be remembered is that it is not just farmers here. There is 300,000 jobs right across the country which are totally dependent on farmers producing a product.
“If I reduce my number of animals there is no need for Cadbury to have a certain number of staff. The butchers likewise won’t have the same amount of product.”
Meanwhile, John O'Brien who farms in Barryroe, Co Cork – said farmers had to have a return from their hard work in order to guarantee a sustainable future.
“There is major change coming at us very quickly from the Cap perspective. We need to be sure going forward that farmers are in a secure position,” he said
“Farmers have to earn a living and have to have a return from their work to sustain the next generation. It is vitally important that any changes are positive and sustainable.”
Áine Crowley rears dairy heifers just outside Bandon in west Cork.
She said farmers were under extreme pressure.
“It is frightening what is coming down the track for farmers. The thing I am grateful for is that I am as old as I am.
“Looking around at the young farmers I wouldn’t swap places with them for a second because it is getting more difficult between climate change and Cap.
Crookstown farmer and manager of Bandon Mart, Seán Dennehy said it was of extreme importance that farmers got the support they needed.
“Farming is a vital part of the local economy. All the towns in west Cork depend on it. If farmers incomes are eroded so too is the viability of the local economy.
“The way Cap is coming down the line is very environmentally motivated. There is a cost to that. We are not against bettering the environment but when there is a cost and it reduces our viability it is dangerous.”