OPINION: Engaging with farmers about climate change

September 17th, 2017 12:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

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IN an interview in the autumn West Cork Farming magazine with this week’s Southern Star, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten, has come out fighting in response to criticism by NGOs of his recently-published National Climate Mitigation Plan. The most scathing attack came from An Taisce who pulled no punches in stating that it is hard to escape the conclusion that the plan’s main objective is ‘mollifying powerful special interest groups,’ including the farming lobby.

Minister Naughten sought to turn the tables by opining that it is the NGOs that need to engage to a far greater extent – as he has done – with people on the ground involved in agriculture and other areas. He acknowledged the challenges that exist in getting full buy-in amongst farmers regarding the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, stating that ‘we all accept that agriculture needs to change, but that change needs to take into account the practical challenges that are there and not just look at this from a purist point of view, or a theoretical point of view.’

He pointed out that practical steps such as quantifying the carbon footprint of meat production through the pioneering Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP), albeit somewhat frustrating for farmers, have been taken. Running until 2020, it is designed to improve the genetic merit of the suckler herds and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the Irish beef herd.

The Minister pointed out that we are now a global leader in this particular area and added that he and his counterparts, particularly in New Zealand, Uruguay and Argentina, are working together to solve the challenges in relation to low-emission beef production.

However, there is much more work to be done in the dairy sector and there are no easy answers as to how significant emissions reductions can be achieved, especially with production output increasing. Minister Naughten said the that farming – or indeed any other sector – cannot just be closed down to solve the emissions problems, which is why NGOs and the environmental organisations ‘need to start to engage at a practical level with communities and with the farming community.’

He wants to encourage ‘smart farming’ through the use of sustainable renewable energy on farms in order to reduce carbon emissions by using solar energy, bio-gas and maybe some small-scale electricity generation. This would lead to energy cost savings for farmers and less damage to the environment, so it should be a win-win situation.

Less vilification of the agricultural sector and more practical engagement with the relevant stakeholders would seem to be the best way forward in changing mindsets and practices for the better in the crucial ongoing battle to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions that are leading to the discernible climate change of recent decades. However, quite specific targets for the reduction of emissions still need to be set, as progress cannot be measured properly unless such a regime in in place.

And, all of us need to play a bigger part across every relevant sector.

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