CAP Draft Strategic Plan Consultation, Ballinakill Mart
We simply must deal with the challenges of climate change, biodiversity decline, habitat loss, and water and air pollution.
That’s the message I had for farmers in Ballinakill Mart in Laois this afternoon, when I met them along with my colleague Minister McConalogue. I told them I know how difficult it will be to align agriculture with all of those things, but that I believe it can be done, and this country needs our farmers to work together, with us in government, to deliver on these challenges.
The Green Party is the political voice for the environment & it gets knocked for that. But the environment NEEDS & deserves a green voice, now more than ever. I am not apologising for the fact that for 40 years, my Party has put the environment at the heart of our policies.
But I asked those present to acknowledge that the environment is now front and centre across the world’s policies, not just Green policies. Just look at all the attention being paid to COP26 in Glasgow this week.
And I genuinely believe that many of those present appreciate that, and accept that what we need to achieve is a reversal of damage. Because environmental damage has been done to this country over the past number of decades.
Take our water quality - Yes, we can all point the finger at dodgy septic tanks and waste water treatment plants, but the EPA says that the biggest pressure on our water systems comes from agriculture.
Take our ammonia emissions – Almost all from agriculture and with a detrimental effect on air quality, human health, and the environment. We have exceeded our legal limits for the past 5 years.
Take our biodiversity - A story of stark decline. A quarter of our birds are under serious threat, many species of plants and animals are endangered, and only 15% of our habitats are in favourable condition. With every hedge or scrub area that is grubbed out - a habitat is lost.
Much of this has happened through agricultural expansion - there is no getting away from that. And it is why this new Common Agricultural Policy seeks more equality across the board, and more bang for its buck in terms of environmental action.
The EU tax payer was asked what they wanted from their money, and they said they want to support farmers, but they want higher environmental ambition. And that’s the deal. If we don’t deliver the environmental ambition, we won’t get the funds.
The action we need to take must have nature at the heart of its delivery. That is where our farmers come in - no other sector can deliver more for our environment. We’ve been focused on economic growth for the past two decades, now it is time to put our environment first.
Farmers’ job descriptions have changed. It’s no longer just about producing high quality food, it’s about repairing our damaged environment. And if we get it right, it will save us money, add value to what we produce, and deliver for us, and future generations of family farms.
But good things don’t come easy. It needs bravery, it needs courage, and it needs farmers across the country to roll up their sleeves like never before, and change the direction of this Titanic…before it hits the iceberg.