Imagine the power of environmentalists and agriculturalists working together

Michael Brady.

Agricultural Consultant and managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents. The Lodge, Lee Road, Cork. 1st published in the Farming Independent 16/07/2021

The time has come for environmentalists and the agriculturalists to work together rather than wasting time and energy scoring points in polarised debates.

When the environmental pillar left the Department of Agriculture Food and Marie (DAFM) stakeholder committee on the Agri-Food 2030 Strategy last February both sides have been on a collision course ever since. The An Taisce -v- Glanbia legal debacle coincided to pour more fuel on the fire.  

Many keyboard warriors on both sides of the debate used this as an opportunity vent frustration and anger, often in a venomous matter on social and traditional media outlets. Others use the platform to further their own selfish reasons often drowning out the voices of reason on the matter.  The passing of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill is the latest chapter in this debate, it has powered through the Dáil and is now with the Seanad.

Perhaps every contentious debate or difference of opinion has to go through a phase of fire and brimstone before reason and logic emerge, but it appears to me that those with an educated, pragmatic view are emerging to the fore on both sides of this debate.

If one takes a step back environmentalists and agriculturalists really have a lot in common. A deep love of the land, management of the environment, living with nature and a dependence on the ecological life cycle.     

The projected 6th mass extinction of species on the planet, where vast areas of the planet will be uninhabitable by the year 2100 is certainly not good for the environmentalist nor the agriculturalist, the prevention of this catastrophe must surely be a unifying goal.

Gone are the days of the 1970’s when farmers were encouraged to remove hedgerows, reclaim bogs, increase chemical fertiliser usage and house livestock in farmyards with inadequate pollution control. There was no recognition of the importance of the environment at that time.

Today’s farmers are replanting hedgerows, rotating crops, protecting ecological focus areas, creating buffer strips, changing fertiliser/slurry practices and even creating new habitats. The majority of farmyards are now pollution compliant with severe penalties for those who don’t comply.    

The next level of agri-environmental measures are now needed to stave off the impending meltdown of the planet. This is the time for environmentalists and agriculturalists to work together, to mutually plan and implement this process.

Imagine the power of environmentalists and agriculturalists working together with a common goal to make Irish agri-environment the standard for other countries to follow. This goal is entirely achievable, but it needs a core group of pragmatic leaders from both camps to come together and work towards a common goal.

The following are the headings to consider in composing such a plan:

  1. Family Farm Financial Viability

Farmers are the backbone of rural Ireland, this is their chosen career and way of life. Families are raised and children educated from these family farms, therefore their financial viability is critical to their ability to survive and prosper. Any environmental goods to be provided must take this basic but necessary fact into account.

  • Protecting and Enhancing Farmer Skill Set

Farmers are the gardeners of the farmed environment, they know how to grow plants and raise animals in the face of many challenges, they have an essential skillset garnered from years of experience handed down from one generation to the next. This skillset cannot be acquired in a university and it is often overlooked by policy makers. Yes, many farmers will need further education in environmental management and enhancement, but this is easily achieved by providing good well though-out agri-environmental schemes which are attractive to both farmers and their advisors. Even rewilding land needs farmers to manage and enhance the process.

  • Environmental and Climate Change Schemes

The EU CAP reform 2023-2027 is the perfect platform to quickly kick start measures on-farm to speed up the environmental and climate change agenda. Farmers and farm organisations must accept that EU CAP is moving from a famer/food support policy to an environmental/ climate policy vehicle. Arguments about convergence and front loading of Pillar 1 payments are missing the point and only serve to fan the flames in old farming organisation divisions. Lets man up and get this agri-environmental plan on the road

  • Carbon Trading

We need to get to the bottom of what is actually warming up the planet and what is cooling down the planet. ‘Credit must be given, where credit is due’ is an old saying which is very true for carbon sequestration leading to carbon credits for future trading. Farmers should be paid for sequestering carbon and penalised for generating temperature warming gasses. This is a win win situation for both farmers and the environment / climate change agenda.  

  • Specific Environmental and Climate Targets

In 2011 Ireland set a target to increase milk production by 50% by 2020, this target was planned between the state, agribusiness and farmers, the plan was successfully executed ahead of time. I see no reason why we cannot achieve the same with environmental / climate change targets. All the needs and wants of over 70 environmental pillar NGO’s and 140,000 farmers cannot be met, but if we make a realistic action list to meet realistic specific environmental / climate change targets, I believe we will again over achieve in the execution of such a plan. 

In Ireland we have a natural climatic advantage to produce wholesome food outdoors in harmony with a wonderful environment. This beautiful country was not created to be shut down as a food producer and in equal measure it is imperative this food production is not achieved by sacrificing our diverse environment   Let’s stop burning energy with needless arguments and debate, agriculturalists and environmentalists should join together, put a plan in place to make Ireland the Garden of Eden and an example to all other countries on the planet.