The Green Party insists it is not anti-farming, but warns it will push for radical changes to the agriculture sector if, as looks possible, it gets into a coalition government this year
The Green Party, buoyed by strong showings in European and local elections, as well as the recent by-elections, are tipped to make big gains as the general election looms.
Many commentators feel that the Greens could well be kingmakers when it comes to forming a government, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail already courting them.
However, the main parties' historical bases in rural communities may be somewhat uneasy with such a marriage.
The Green Party's leaders have indicated strongly that they will draw up tough red lines, and impose strong preconditions, before going into coalition with any party.
A clear message emanating from the party's think-in in Cork prior to Christmas was that if the next government involved the Greens, it must be prepared to tackle climate change immediately.
Messages such as this have left a sense among some that the green tide might be looking to submerge the farming sector.
However, Pippa Hackett, the Green Party's agriculture spokesperson, insisted that this was not the case.
"The Green Party is not advocating shutting down all farming," she stressed.
"It's unfortunate that the media mainly cover only the extremes when environmental issues are debated.
"The extreme vegan versus the extreme farmer who wants to do what he likes on his land - that might make for a bit of craic on the radio or telly, but it's not solving anything. The Green Party are trying to bridge some of those gaps."
So what are the Green Party's priorities relating to agriculture, and should farmers be concerned?
Shift away from beef and dairy The Green Party believe the agricultural sector needs to diversify away from its focus on beef and dairy.
"We are so ingrained in what we are doing, it's very hard to see a different future for agriculture in Ireland," Hackett said.
"Farmers need to embrace some sort of transition at least at this stage.
"It's not an anti-beef or cow thing, but financially it's not paying. Even the top beef farmers are losing money, and dairy farmers have to work enormous hours to eke out a living.
"The bottom line on the Green Party's vision for agriculture is that we have to embrace nature in everything that we do rather than trying to manipulate it."
The Green Party supports "a refocus of the dairy and meat sector on quality production over scale of output", and advocates measures that support high-quality meat and dairy production.
It is calling for the promotion of Ireland as a producer of grass-fed-only meat and dairy products, with a significant increase in native breed types and quality.
"A huge amount of grain is imported to support concentrate feeding," Hackett said, noting that this was not serving our tillage farmers very well.
She wants to see the tillage sector moving to growing grains for human consumption and highlighted initiatives in other countries where farmers are incentivised to have fully grass-fed livestock production.
In practice, Hackett said farmers would get a premium for such a product funded by public money.
"Ideally, we consumers would see the value of this and pay for it but we are now in the situation where we bred generations of people who are accustomed to cheap food," she said.
If they get into government, the Green Party will be looking to increase the supports provided to organic farming across all sectors, particularly horticulture, and it supports increasing the area of land farmed organically to 20pc by 2030.
"We are only putting €10m in organics at the moment. It's pathetic when you see €300m going into the genomics programme.
"This is something the Green Party will want to see happen," Hackett said.
The Greens support the redirection of CAP and national funding towards farm practices which lower carbon emissions, enhance biodiversity and the wider environment, and towards measures to support and enable farmers to scale back their dependency on livestock overall.
In terms of specific policy, Hackett said the Green Party will definitely look to shift funding from Pillar 1 (direct payments) to Pillar 2.
"We want to see results-based payments. Currently, farmers are paid regardless. We are putting piles of sand in the corner of a field but no one is checking if there are any bees in them," she said.
"For us, the CAP is not just about giving money out. We are contributors to the EU budget now. It's our own money. It's not a free ball of money from the EU anymore."
The Green Party is looking to expand the definition of 'Greening Measures' to include issues such as stocking density, biodiversity support, carbon sequestration measures, and soil management.
It also wants to reform direct payments to focus on these issues exclusively while transforming any other capital payments to tax rebate schemes or similar equal.
The Greens believe that the national agricultural strategies of the last two governments - Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 - have been disastrous for the agriculture sector.
"We want the current strategy to be completely revised. It doesn't serve anyone, bar the multinational sector," Hackett said.
"Who says we have to hit these production targets? Are the primary producers benefiting - because without them there is no food industry.
"We need to focus on adding value to our products rather than pure production targets. Focus on food, not the commodity."
If they get into government, the Green Party would look to scrap the green/marked diesel regime in favour of a tax rebate payable to farmers.
"It's not about getting rid of green diesel," Hackett said, suggesting that the policy is purely to address the smuggling of the fuel and its links to criminality as well as such activities environmental consequences.
The Greens are against the culling of badgers. "We don't believe culling has made a difference," Hackett said, adding that cattle movement is never factored in, which she said is huge transmitter of TB.
"We need to look at biosecurity. At the end of the day, it's bovine TB the badgers carry, not badger or deer TB."