ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that the report on Climate Smart Agriculture makes little or no contribution to the fundamental question of how do we ensure viability for Ireland’s farm families.
He said that farmers would react badly to suggestions that suckler cow numbers would have to be slashed and that their future would be rearing poor quality calves from the expanding dairy herd. He added that the report correctly identified a reason for low take up of forestry being the requirement to replant with trees at the end of clear-fell but said that the incoherence and uncertainty around sequestration and carbon sinks undermined the credibility of EU climate change policy.
‘In fairness to the report, it is built around the concept of a land use-food-climate nexus which mean that it accepts that simply focusing on emissions reductions is the wrong approach. However, there are inherent difficulties around the proposition that beef is the commodity with the highest emissions intensity whereas dairying is getting more and more intensive. Both of these scenarios are hopelessly compromised when there seems to be little will to account for sequestration in grass and offset it against emissions.
For example, Ireland is castigated for its land use breakdown whereby our afforestation level of 11% is compared unfavourably with the EU-28 average of 42%. Our forestry levels are certainly much lower than Sweden or Finland or alpine regions around central Europe but there is no reason why this could rationally be changed. On the other hand, Ireland has one of the lowest areas of cropland to a quite considerable extent.
‘Little mention is made of the effects of continuous tillage. Yet the EU climate change policy gives us no credit for having the greatest proportion of permanent grassland.’
Mr Kent went on to say that farmers in Ireland were under huge pressure to break even and unless climate change experts can come up with radical solutions to improve this, then the prospects for becoming a world leader in climate smart agriculture were slight. ‘Certainly, advising that farmers should abandon one low paying enterprise (sucklers) for an even worse one trying to rear dairy calves that won’t even grade to achieve the QPS bonus is unlikely to impress farmers. There is a lot of anger among beef farmers who sense they have to move out of the way to facilitate dairy expansion but a debate is required on the cost of expansion and greater intensification which has been sadly under-estimated especially when we see the impact on milk price of extra production.
“Using climate change to advocate diet change (i.e. cut down red meat consumption) is just pandering to the vegan agenda and not going to win over farmers either. Health problems in western societies have a lot more to do with junk food. Let’s not forget that we spent a generation listening to the lie that butter was bad for you and that margarine was better.
‘The bottom line is that Ireland needs to continue to make the argument that we cannot be sacrificed just to see more beef produced in South America. Farmers will adopt money saving technologies such as spreading slurry in the spring and extending grazing where possible but we have to be cognisant that there are limits to what can be achieved on heavy ground, especially in western counties.’