Climate change hasn't gone away
The move last week by Environment Minister Phil Hogan to review the carbon emission and climate change measures drafted by the last government has been broadly welcomed by farmers and food processors.
The 20pc reduction by 2020 sought under the original proposals from Green Party minister John Gormley had raised fears that a massive cull of the national herd would be needed to meet these targets.
The decision by Mr Hogan not to introduce sectoral targets through a Climate Change Bill, but to initiate a consultation period with relevant stakeholders is a far more pragmatic approach.
In effect, he is echoing the current discussion in the EU on how to reduce carbon emissions in sectors like agriculture while allowing increased food production to match the growing global demand. There is also an acceptance that unlike industry, it is not possible to simply engineer out carbon emissions in agriculture.
This is an important opportunity for Irish agriculture. However, at the risk of mimicking one of our Opposition leaders, it would be a mistake to believe the climate change agenda has gone away.
Regardless of Mr Hogan's decision on the Climate Change Bill, Ireland must still adhere to its legally binding target to cut emissions by 20pc by the end of the decade. Fines await if we don't hit this target. But at least now we can decide what sector pays, how much do they pay and how they pay.
Michael Barry, of the Irish Dairy Industry Association, believes the policy shift by Mr Hogan allows Ireland to redefine what the country can do to address climate change in a manner which allows us to expand food production in a sustainable manner.
"The real challenge now is how we link growth, farm profitability and sustainability into a strategy that supports Ireland's overall reduction target," Mr Barry said.