Climate action plan designed to prepare for future CAP changes, says Coveney

Tánaiste expects next CAP to place huge emphasis on sustainability and greenhouse gas reductions

A former minister for agriculture, Simon Coveney said the CAP is worth about €12 billion annually to Irish farmers. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

A former minister for agriculture, Simon Coveney said the CAP is worth about €12 billion annually to Irish farmers. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

The Government’s climate action plan is designed to ensure Irish agriculture is prepared for future changes in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) focusing on sustainable food production, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney told the first of a series of town hall meetings on climate change in Cork the Government’s climate action plan aims to deliver on a Teagasc target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming by 30 per cent by 2030.

Speaking to an audience of about 150 invited guests at UCC, Mr Coveney said the most recent CAP had begun the processing of “greening” food production but he expected the next CAP to focus even more on the issue of sustainability.

“The last CAP was the first big effort to ‘green’ the CAP and 30 per cent of farmers’ direct payments are linked essentially to a series of basic benchmarks around protecting the environment while producing food,” he said

“The next round of CAP in my view will be much more sophisticated in terms of the climate and environmental dividends that need to be paid for financially through the CAP but also must be delivered on a farm level.”

A former minister for agriculture, Mr Coveney said the CAP is worth about €12 billion annually to Irish farmers and should be seen as a contract between largely urban taxpayers throughout the EU and food producers to produce high quality food.

Mr Coveney said the CAP was “fantastic value for money” which was why taxpayers across the EU were willing to allocate just under 30 per cent of the EU’s entire budget towards supporting sustainable farming and food production.

“Yes, CAP is about making farmers viable but it is also about giving a goods dividend if you like for that money in terms of safety, quality and increasingly, sustainability, in terms of how the food is produced.

“I think we will see a more scientific approach through the CAP towards measuring the sustainability and the climate impact of how we produce our food. It’s not a bad thing for farmers but it something that needs to be managed.

“And if you sell 80 per cent of the food you produce outside your own market, not only do you now need to be price competitive as well as producing quality, safe food, you also face increasing demands in terms of sustainability and how it’s produced.

“That’s why we are seeking to reduce the emissions footprint of the Irish agricultural sector now before we are forced to because that certainly is the direction the CAP will take so we need to be prepared for that day.”

Ireland will continue to argue for maintaining CAP budgets in the next round of talks but the Government needs to start asking hard questions of agriculture to ensure Irish farmers are ready to meet climate change targets.

Mr Coveney said that while agriculture represents a high percentage of Ireland’s overall emissions outside of the traded sector, farming is continuing to move towards a more efficient means of production which will reduce emissions.

The dairy sector has begun to expand following the lifting of the quota system and there was a real willingness among Irish farmers to embrace change as they realise that increasing efficiency drives increased profitability.

“We are certainly moving to a point where inefficient animals in herds, animals that are emitting but not yielding product, will become very costly and farmers will look to ensure that they are breeding efficiency into their herds,

“The dairy herd is done and the beef herd is starting to do a lot more. It’s more challenging in the beef sector because the average herd size in the beef sector is much smaller and the average farm income from beef is just €15,000 a year.”

Mr Coveney said among the moves Irish farmers need look at over the coming years will be a move away from oil based fertilisers to more organic fertilisers, use of biofuel in machinery and more environmental means of spreading slurry.

He stressed that he did not want people thinking that just because Fine Gael was very supportive of Irish agriculture and the Irish food industry that it was not willing “to ask the hard questions of the sector about climate change.”