Varadkar says no farmers will be told to stop farming or reduce herd size

Tánaiste tells conference it is incumbent on society to make sure we have farmers with better and more stable incomes

No farmer is going to be told to stop farming or to reduce the size of a herd in order to meet exacting climate change targets, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told a Fine Gael conference on agriculture and rural Ireland.

He said Ireland would adopt “sensible” measures to achieve the Government target of a 51 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at a one-day seminar in Tullamore, Co Offaly, on Saturday, attended by over 400 party members, including a large number of the party’s Ministers, TDs and Senators.

Asked at a press conference about recent research which predicted that to meet the 30 per cent sectoral reduction for agriculture, some 50,000 jobs would be lost in farming and sector losses would be €4 billion per annum, he said he did not necessarily agree with that prediction. “The agricultural sector is actually being asked for the lowest reduction of any sector,” he replied.

“Nobody is going to be told that their car is going to be confiscated. Nobody is going to be told that their factory is going to be shut down. No inward investor that wants to invest in Ireland is going to be told that they’re not welcome.

“No farmer is going to be told to stop farming or to reduce the number of cattle they have or animals they have. So you know, what I really want to say to people as a message of reassurance, we will set targets and we’ll do everything we can to achieve everything that’s sensible.

“But (we will not do it) to the extent that it results in a reduction in the food we produce. That will make no sense at all in a world where there are people that need to be fed every day,” he said.

Carbon farming

During the day-long seminar there were sessions on markets, security, climate action and new economic opportunities for rural Ireland, with discussions exploring micro-generation, solar farming as well as carbon farming.

Mr Varadkar said it was incumbent on society to make sure we can have farmers with better incomes and more stable incomes.

“The best way to achieve that is to enable farmers to have a number of streams of income. They include carbon farming because many industries would be willing to pay farmers to offset carbon.

“And then there is microgeneration which gives huge possibilities to give farmers a stable source of additional income.

“Farmers are saying to me they want to do this, they want to get into micro generation, they want to put solar panels on roofs, and they want the Government to facilitate it. Crucial to this is striking a tariff or striking a minimum payment that makes this viable for farmers so there is a return on investment for them.”

Furore

Proposed regulations to ban the commercial sale of turf from September caused furore within ranks of coalition partners Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael last month, with Ministers and backbenchers expressing anger at the decision.

Asked about the turf issue, he said it was not yet resolved. Mr Varadkar said there was a need to reduce the number of pollutants in the air in rural Ireland as well as in urban areas.

Having said that, he added there was a need to come up with a compromise solution.

“We are clear as a party that people who have turbary rights to cut turf will be protected, there’s no dispute about that, as well as people who have traditionally given turf to neighbours and friends, or even sold turf on a small scale basis in their communities.

He said that turf distribution like that was really happening at a “de minimis” level and was not really the cause of air pollution. “We just need to get it right and don’t want a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”