Farmers and environmentalists need to get away from “butting heads” over climate action because the situation can be a “win-win” for both, the Minister for Agriculture has said.
Charlie McConalogue said he was frustrated by the narrative that agriculture was the “big bad boy” in relation to the environment. He denied any suggestion that productive farming and lowering emissions were opposite goals, insisting this was “not the case”.
Mr McConalogue said the sustainability agenda and the need to have a profitable farming sector were “symbiotic” and could be a “win-win”.
The Donegal TD said Irish agriculture had one of the most sustainable production models in the world and a low-emissions footprint by international standards, but it also must become more sustainable to reduce emissions further.
He said this was what consumers wanted as it was informing their choices on what they buy, and added: “It’s an economic imperative as well as a significant contribution to our environment emissions profile for Irish agriculture to continue in the sustainability journey.”
The Fianna Fáil Minister was speaking in the wake of anger in the farming community at a letter sent by Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe to banks raising concern about loans being extended to young farmers to extend cattle herds.
Mr Cuffe later accepted that he had been wrong to single out young farmers, acknowledging the need for the whole country to work to reduce emissions.
Mr McConalogue said Mr Cuffe’s intervention was “totally ill-guided” and “damaging”.
He said it was “symptomatic of what we need to get away from, which is that conflict between the sustainability agenda and productive agriculture”.
He pointed to the Food Vision 2030 strategy as a “serious step change” that puts the focus on sustainability and adding value and away from volume growth over the next decade.”
Senior Green Party figures have said the cattle herd will naturally reduce as farmers diversify, while Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians have said it will stabilise while being more sustainable.
Mr McConalogue insisted the Government has been "very coherent" on the issue, and said "nobody, Greens or otherwise, has come to me over the last year and said that 'you know, we need to reduce the amount of food that we produce in this country'."
He said the Government wanted to reduce to reduce emissions but maintain food production, and the cuts of between 22 per cent and 30 per cent in the Climate Action Plan were “very much deliverable”.
“We do need to keep the herd stable as a starting point” to achieve the targets, he said.
Asked about a recent protest that saw farmers blockade a Musgrave food distribution centre in Co Kildare, Mr McConalogue said it was "ill-thought out".
The Individual Farmers of Ireland group was believed to be behind the protest over the high cost of fuel and carbon tax.
Mr McConalogue said it was carried out by a small group that did not have the support of farming organisations that they had once been a part of. “I don’t think they were representing the wider farming community.”
He encouraged all farmers to engage with him, pointing to his visits to marts in every county in recent months where he fielded views on the development of the new Common Agricultural Policy programme.
“I’m absolutely open to engaging in all issues with representative organisations.”