'Thank you' to farmers who are embracing new schemes
In my speech yesterday in the Seanad, I spoke about the two new schemes my Department opened last week; these schemes are positive for farmers, for climate, for biodiversity and for water quality, and will help us reach our targets in the agriculture sector. The ACRES and the Organic Farming Scheme are a fantastic opportunity.
Yet, we still hear some criticism, I suspect from those not joining either scheme: ACRES ‘doesn’t pay enough’, and Organics ‘isn’t the bed of roses it’s been made out to be, they say.
But as I speak, more farmers are joining, and speaking to their advisers about joining. And I want to thank those who are embracing the schemes, and to say to those who are opposed to them:
Firstly, these are voluntary schemes, no one is forcing anyone into them, but we would love you to join.
Secondly, these schemes are there to support farmers to embark upon a different way of doing things on their farms. It is not money for standing still, or business as usual.
Thirdly, the schemes come with terms and conditions, as they should do, this is taxpayers’ money we are spending.
Fourthly, expert advice on the schemes is available from farm advisors and planners across the country, and we want you to avail of that.
So again, thank you to those farmers who will apply for these schemes over the coming weeks. You are making a good decision. You are not only making a difference to your farm, you are doing something really positive for Irish society, as we fight the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and water quality decline.
The world is changing, Ireland is changing, Agriculture is changing, and our schemes are changing, because we have a massive challenge ahead.
The challenge we must rise to, is to farm in a way that repairs our broken environment, our damaged ecosytems, our polluted rivers, our dwindling biodiversity; to farm in a way that enriches our soil, stores our carbon, cleans our air, and is kinder to our animals. We need our food production systems to deliver on all of these things.
And it can be done, but it needs everyone working together. We speak proudly of our grass-based system of agriculture, and so we should. But much of our grass-based system is heavily reliant on synthetic fertilisers, so arguably we are fertiliser-based as much as we are grass-based.
By relying so heavily on fossil fuels to push production and grow grass in this way – it puts pressure on our environment, and on our farmers.
Yet, I know a lot of farmers who were surprised by how well their grass performed with less fertiliser this past year. It was surprising to them, because a lot of the advice has been telling them their grass won’t grow if they cut back on their chemical fertiliser use.
The bottom line is this: the sooner we reduce our reliance on fertiliser, the sooner our land will adapt, the sooner our soil will recover, and the sooner we will move towards a truly grass based system.
And finally, a plug for anyone interested in learning more about how they can farm with fewer inputs – check out the Biofarm Conference on Nov 7th to 11th in Carrick on Shannon. In person or on-line, this is a must for anyone interested in embracing a different way of farming with presenters from a whole array of regenerative and biological farming disciplines, including my Department and Teagasc.
The direction of travel is clear; how quickly we move, is up to us.