BY EMMA CONNOLLY
BACK off and target someone else – we’re already doing our bit for the environment, say West Cork farmers who are outraged at proposals to tax them on greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal by the Citizens’ Assembly, they say, shows no understanding of how they operate and, if introduced, will ultimately result in more expensive food for consumers while bringing smaller farmers to their knees.
Statistics, they say, are proof they’re already moving in the right direction since 1990 they’ve increased production by 40% and decreased emissions by 6%.
On top of that they’re already paying carbon tax – something they say has not shown itself to be effective in reducing emissions but rather a revenue generator.
Harold Kingston, IFA Cork Central chairman, said there was massive anger locally over the proposal: ‘Tax is a blunt instrument that doesn’t work. This tax will either be so small that it won’t make any change – except in introducing more administration; or be so high that it will hamper food production, especially beef. Everything from the ploughing of a field for vegetables to a dairy processor’s new plant would be implicated by this.
‘On the face of it, it sounds like a great idea to the public who don’t understand farming emissions and how we are dealing with them.’
For it to work, he said, it would have to be introduced globally as one country could not be singled out and hampered by such a tax which has already been rejected in the likes of New Zealand where agriculture is one of the country’s main industries.
He described the discussion as a ‘missed opportunity’ which should instead have focussed on ‘smart farming’ and the likes of micro-generation of electricity; bio mass energy and the sequestering of carbon into soil.
‘This is a non-binding recommendation that has already been internationally rejected – it’s not a good idea; there’s anger on the ground and while personally I’m not surprised by it, I am disappointed.’
West Cork beef farmer Tommy Moyles said that in the absence of any heavy industry, farmers were the easiest target for the Assembly. However, he said he wasn’t panicking as there was a long road ahead, acknowledging there was a lot that could be done at farm level to improve emissions such as reducing inputs like fertiliser and feed.
His own operation has gone from using 26 tonnes of fertiliser in 2012 to 11 this year through better use of clover. ‘It’s good to have this conversation but it’s just not practical,’ he concluded.
Carbery said that while they recognised the need to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions, they do not support the tax: ‘Ireland is one of the most efficient producers of milk from a greenhouse gas perspective. There are already significant sustainability initiatives in place.’
West Cork IFA chairman Corney Buckley said local members were furious at ‘one group of people being singled out and taxed on their production.’
‘Since the news emerged farmers have been ringing me – they are up in arms. It’s a lopsided decision by an anti-farmer group who don’t understand what we do. We will not take this lying down. The ultimate consequence, if this goes ahead, is dearer food, which would see us importing produce, and there’s no way of knowing how carbon-friendly that would be, so it’s a case of shooting ourselves in the foot.’
IFA president Joe Healy described the suggestions as impractical and unlikely to make any real environmental difference, while chairman of the organisation’s environment committee Thomas Cooney blasted it as having the potential to ‘rip the heart of rural Ireland.’
A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Michael Creed added: ‘We continue to strive for improvement and are investing hundreds of millions through the department’s Rural Development Programme.’
The proposal now goes forward to the Oireachtas in the new year.