Time to split issues of food production and environment
Farming in environmentally sensitive areas has to be supported
Farming can be a complex and difficult business. Most years we manage to produce more and yet, somehow, often seem to end up earning less.
There is no doubt that, without the various support schemes and subsidies, many farms would not be viable and it is often said that the bigger the farm, the greater the debt.
It's not surprising that Irish farmers find it hard to make ends meet when we are competing in a world market while operating under welfare and environmental constraints that do not apply to many of our competitors.
Maybe it is time to think about dealing separately with the production of food and the protection of the environment. This idea has already been put forward as being a potential means of managing our woodland resources.
The theory is that we could make the best possible commercial use of our woodland without compromising on environmental protection. To do this we could separate selected areas in order to concentrate on production in one and protection of the environment in the other. The beauty of the concept is that the productive area can still bestow environmental benefits, while the protected area can also contribute in a smaller way to our timber needs while ensuring the creation and retention of further diverse wildlife habitats.
Both can be managed to maximum efficiency instead of working, as now happens, under a complex and often misunderstood set of ever-changing rules.
This idea could also perhaps be usefully applied to farming in general, where some farmers would be paid to farm solely for the environmental benefits of their systems of land management while others could focus on maximising output and profits. This does not, of course, mean that productive commercial farming would be in any way harmful, simply that one would concentrate fully on profitable production and the other on protection of wildlife and habitats.
The Heritage Council is examining the link between traditional, less intensive methods of farming and bio-diversity. These systems of farming are rapidly becoming marginalised and they feel that they should be subsidised in selected areas to ensure that the old knowledge survives along with the benefits of old practices.