Five farm leaders respond to the ‘transformative’ goals set out in the draft 2030 Agri-Food Strategy
The country’s farm organisations have responded to the newly published draft 2030 Agri-Food Strategy – a pivotal document that sets out the direction of travel for national food production over the coming decade.
After 15 months of challenging deliberations, the 30-member strong committee – comprised of cross-sector stakeholders including farm organisations and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – engaged, developed and agreed on “four missions” and "22 goals” to “make Ireland's food system environmentally, economically and socially sustainable”.
Some of the strategy’s stand-out targets for 2030 include: a minimum 10pc reduction in biogenic methane emissions; a reduction in ammonia emissions below 107,500t; a 50pc reduction in nutrient losses to water; 10pc of farmed area prioritised for biodiversity; and an increase in forestry and organic farming.
Below the country’s farm leaders outline their views on the draft document which now progresses to a phase of eight-week public consultation facilitated by the Department of Agriculture.
Colm O’Donnell INHFA president said the vision of having a climate neutral food system by 2050 can only be achieved with additional investment and funding being made available to the industry as a whole.
"This is of particular importance for our primary food producers, (our farmers) who are being asked to deliver for the environment, while ensuring food security to feed our population with safe, wholesome, nutritious food. All of this on the back of a shrinking CAP budget.
“The EU Commission’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies set out an ambition to reduce dependency on pesticides and antimicrobials, reduce excess fertilisation, increase organic farming, improve animal welfare and address biodiversity loss.
“A full financial impact assessment for both strategies must be carried out to access the future viability of farmers who are being expected to deliver on the 10 year targets for greenhouse gas, ammonia emissions, nutrient losses to water, organic farming and biodiversity.
“Achieving a sustainable food systems approach which is the ethos of the strategy will depend on the results of a full impact assessment of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies on the economic, social and environmental sustainability of our farmers.”
On the proposed 10pc biogenic methane cut, Mr O’Donnell said pursuing this objective “is a science in itself”.
"Researching the use of novel additives to livestock diets to reduce this greenhouse gas is worthy of support and has the potential to be a game changer. However, the 10pc minimum target by 2030 is setting the bar very high.
“The INHFA stance on reducing the national herd to achieve the target is crystal clear. It’s not the cow, it’s the how.
“With numbers of suckler cows falling naturally and dairy cow numbers still on the increase, we cannot expect to sacrifice one commodity at the expense of another. The Climate Change Advisory Council’s recommendations to Government which suggests we reduce suckler numbers by up to 50pc based on the sectors lack of profitability.
"This advice constitutes a deliberate planned unequal treatment of farmers based on enterprise and directly contravenes the principle that all farmers have a legitimate expectation to be supported in a non-discriminatory manner in accordance with the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union.”
Pat McCormack ICMSA president said the draft strategy is “very sweeping and ambitious in its language and aspirations”.
"The challenge is how we continue to transition our commercial farming sector to an even more sustainable and low emissions basis.
"Using terminology like ‘food systems approach’ shouldn’t detract from the core mission that we all have to commit to.
"The targets set out will be worked towards, but I can’t be the only one who looks at, for instance, the forestry sections and wonders how we’re going to get there in light of the current very well publicised problems in that sector.
"What we see in forestry – and it’s the same on so many issues – is an unwillingness or inability to grasp the fact that you have to make these engaging with these targets attractive for the farmers.
"Policy must make it attractive and feasible to do the things we all want done; to hit the targets we all want to see achieved. But it had better be understood that farmers will not pay the costs for everyone else in this continuing transition to lower emissions farming and food production. We need to be blunter about the reality of food price inflation and the fact that it is inevitable.”
On the minimum 10pc reduction in biogenic methane emissions McCormack warned that if this target means a reduction in the national herd "then we reject it”.
“If the means by which this is reduction is intended is some crude across-the-board reduction in the national herd then we reject that.
"There are very many options before we even have to consider anything like that blunderbuss approach and research and tech is already pointing the way to solutions that maintain numbers but reduce emissions.
"These should be given the time and funding to permit them to be fully worked through. We also think that the proportionate importance of these sectors has to be evaluated: farming in general – and dairying in particular – is not just an aspect of our rural economy, it is the rural economy.
"We’re not happy with the relegation of social and economic sustainability and the sole focus on environmental sustainability.
"Our concern is that following on from that sole focus an attempt will be made to force farmers to carry the burden for everyone else as we continue that transition to more sustainable and lower emissions. We are not convinced that the public have fully grasped the reality of this process in terms of the costs of their food.”
IFA president Tim Cullinan said the publication of the draft is “a crucial moment” for the future of Irish agriculture.
“The draft is a product of over 12 months of discussion. Everyone who stayed around the table had to compromise somewhat in order to allow the document to go out for consultation.
“The document does acknowledge the importance of the three pillars of sustainability - economic, environmental and social - and has an emphasis on farm viability, but there are aspects of it which will be more challenging for farmers,” he said.
“The next couple of months will be vital. All our commodity committees and our National Council will be examining the document in real detail. Others decided to walk away, but it’s IFA’s intention to continue to work hard to influence the outcome so that commercial farming is supported.
“This is a far-reaching draft strategy that will be the roadmap for our largest indigenous sector for the next decade. There is a clear commitment in the document to carry out a full impact assessment of the proposals on farmers. Without farmers, we won’t have a wider agri-food sector,” he said.
Mr Cullinan said some of the proposed targets are “very challenging” and cannot be achieved without significant Government funding.
“Farmers are willing to play their part in climate action, and they must be at the centre of Government policy. They will be looking to the Government to provide support, investment and practical policy measures to allow them continue to produce quality food.”
ICSA president Dermot Kelleher said, overall, the positive element of the strategy is that “it marks a move away” from a singular focus on increased output and exports which was at the heart of previous agri-food strategies.
However, he warned “there is little sign” that the level of ambition across the four missions is matched by Government and EU policy, or by the agri-food industry at processor and retailer level.
"At policy level, it is exemplified by the fact that we are now discussing a pilot agri-environment scheme that will be worth about €4000 to farmers, which is not dissimilar to GLAS whereas twenty years ago REPS was seen as a scheme that really rewarded participating farmers.
“The ambition to make Ireland ‘a world leader’ in the highest standards of sustainability will be a waste of time unless the meat industry can demonstrate what premium this will deliver.
"For too long, the meat industry has expected farmers to be happy when it reaches the average EU price; if the sustainability objective means anything, we cannot expect farmers to deliver unless they get significantly more than the EU average.
“ICSA is also concerned that the report has not been more focused on making suckler farming a central part of our strategy in producing sustainable beef for a premium price. On the contrary, we are concerned that it has not made it clear that reduced emissions are in the first instance, the responsibility of the dairy sector.
"Suckler beef produces a lot less emissions per hectare than intensive dairying, and it is the total emissions across all Irish hectares that determines Ireland’s goals in reaching climate change targets."
Macra na Feirme
Macra president Thomas Duffy said a 10pc reduction in biogenic methane emissions should only be achieved by investment in the sector – particularly in anaerobic digestion, expansion of BDGP and genotyping/milk recording of the entire dairy herd.
"Limits or reduction in the national herd are not acceptable as these will undermine farmer income and ability for young farmers to create viable farms.
"The key issue remains the lack of strong targets about improving farm income and viability by comparison to the clear targets on environmental measures.
"The development of the sector into a profession that will attract young farmers can only be achieved by improving farmer returns from the market, rather than increasing production to keep ahead of rising costs.”