Margaret Donnelly: Is the green agenda finally about to change the face of farming?

Margaret Donnelly
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnellly

Is there a seismic change about to take place in farming? The green agenda was a dominant issue during the local and European elections.

While the overall number of green candidates being elected didn't swell, there's no question that climate action is on everyone's mind. But talk is one thing, action another.

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The farmers we spoke to last week at Roscrea Mart give a good insight into where farmers' views are when it comes to environmental measures.

Many have already planted trees after identifying that marginal land could deliver a return through forestry.

However, it might be a different job to persuade farmers who don't have any marginal land to move in that direction.

But we must ask questions as to why the uptake of forestry among farmers is so poor in this country. Why, for example, don't beef producers who are making nothing from cattle simply cut their losses and plant forestry, which has grants for planting, delivers a reliable income and still allows the farmer qualify for Basic Payments?

It's more than likely the biggest obstacle to forestry is the fact that once land is planted, it can't be taken back for 'regular' agricultural production.

For many farmers, that's the equivalent of throwing in the towel. So maybe the ideal scenario is that every farmer needs to consider planting some forestry as we as a country move away from a policy of planting vast tracts of land that serve no purpose to any rural community. This approach may not be as productive as intensive planting, or as attractive to forestry investors, but an increase in afforestation throughout the country is a positive.

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Translating the ambition of climate action into practical actions is going to be a priority for this and future governments.

The Climate Action Plan published yesterday includes a commitment to reviewing the second- and third-level agricultural courses to focus more on the benefits of farm diversification.

Telling farmers that forestry should be considered as a viable option is one thing, seeing the numbers react to this will be another.

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