IT’S A TRICKY space, agriculture.
Most of us accept that the way we farm is changing, and indeed must change. But with a vociferous few harbingers of doom banging drums and bemoaning the supposed death of rural Ireland at the hands of the dreaded Greens, there may be a suspicion that the price of climate and biodiversity action could be too high – that our farm families could be forced off the land, and that our green fields could be left bereft of cattle.
Well, my message is that nothing could be further from the truth.
Yes, there is a shift coming in Irish agriculture which will and must be, transformational. But it will also be hugely positive. And I see it resulting in new generations of farmers and foresters working the land in a sustainable way, with nature being restored, water quality improving, and premium prices being delivered to those who produce premium Origin Green produce.
To my mind, that is a future worth fighting for. And it is why I am so pleased that in the past week we have seen just two more developments which demonstrate how environmental thinking is permeating agriculture in a very real way.
The developments were the publication today of a key strategy document for the food sector, Food Vision 2030, and the launch of an initial public consultation on the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plan.
In both instances, the influence of the increased climate ambition of this Government was clear. It’s an ambition which I believe has led to outcomes which, while perhaps not perfect, show clearly that Green thinking is at the heart of a shift in agriculture.
To explain: Food Vision 2030 is a stakeholder strategy which was produced with Department of Agriculture support. The stakeholders included farm organisations, industry representatives, State agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Pillar, though the Pillar left shortly before the end, believing the strategy was not sufficiently ambitious.
But the strategy has now been published, with its chair Tom Arnold, highlighting how it will employ a ‘Food Systems’ approach to ensure Ireland’s agri-food sector meets the highest standards of economic, environmental and social sustainability. For the Green Party, this placing of the environment as central is both crucial and welcome.
The other element of the strategy, which is equally welcome and also vital, is the acknowledgement that the targets set in it are fluid and will change with increased climate ambition. This is essential, as the Climate Action Plan, when it is published later in the year, will almost certainly increase the ambition and demands on the sector, as will other environmental measures which are being rolled out.
These include the Clean Air Strategy and the revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directive in 2022; the Third River Basin Management Plan under the EU water framework directive which will greatly improve water quality; and the reduction of carbon emissions under our own Climate Action Bill and the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ emissions reduction package. It is really positive therefore, that the strategy specifically acknowledges that it will adjust its targets to meet the requirements of the Climate Action Plan.
The consultation on the CAP Strategic Plan also demonstrates just how seriously we are taking the need to shift to ‘farming for nature’ and focus on the needs of the land.
Pippa Hackett, Published journal.ie 03/08/2021