What environmentalists and the general public don’t understand about farmers

1st Published 05/08/2022

Michael Brady.

Agricultural Consultant and managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents. The Lodge, Lee Road, Cork.


The magic figure is a 25% reduction in green-house gasses (GHG) from agriculture by 2030.

The big question for farmers, is this the stairway to heaven or the highway to hell?

The honest answer is that nobody really knows what impact these targets will have on farming and the wider agricultural sector in the coming years. My first observation is that they are only targets on paper, it’s actions not targets what achieve results in any walk of life.

The Teagasc MACC Curve (Marginal Abatement Cost Curve) is the roadmap for farmers to meet GHG reductions, will it be sufficient or will it require recalibration? A MACC curve on steroids was needed to meet the 25% was suggested on social media, maybe that’s correct.

Regardless of what government agrees or environmentalists demand, in my experience farmers are independently minded, they will weigh up what actions are best for them and their farm businesses. Often environmentalists miss this fundamental point when lecturing to farmers about their vision for food production systems. The following are farmer traits environmentalists and the general public often don’t understand about farmers:

  1.  It’s not all about profit

I recently had a debate with a non-farmer about rewilding land, incentivising farmers financially to exit livestock farming systems and grow more trees. Growing trees has been more financially attractive than many beef and sheep farming enterprises for years, yet the take up of forestry amongst farmers is very low. Financial incentives alone are not sufficient to coax farmers into carbon farming systems of production. It not all about profit.    

  • Crops don’t grow everywhere

George Monbiot a writer and an environmental/political activist recently appeared on RTE 1’s Prime Time proclaiming that all animal agriculture should be discontinued. In fact, he said ‘eating eggs, dairy and beef was an indulgence’. What about all the grassland and prairies abound the world, crops and pulses will not grow on this land, these lands and ruminant livestock are also part of biodiversity on planet earth, they must be part of the plan. Crops don’t grow everywhere.    

  • Time is important – Actions mean more work

Farmers are the original time managers, they have to adjust their working day to different seasons, daylight and daylength. The new schemes proposed under EU CAP Reform 2023-2027 all include ‘actions’ to be carried out by farmers of some description. There is a menu of actions for ECO schemes under Pillar 1 and in the new ACRES scheme in Pillar 11. Add another menu of actions if a farmer partakes in in a nitrates derogation.

 Actions mean more work, this is proving a major deterrent to farmers taking up such schemes, as both fulltime and parttime are time poor. Time is important to farmers.

  • Tradition and pride matters

Tradition matters in the farming community, more so than in urban communities. People in towns and cities move house and community depending on their disposable income and social status. Farmers in general stay where they were born and bred. If you combine this with some farmers limited profit ambition all the social media clicks and financial incentives in the world wont change their way of life. 

  • Don’t like being dictated to

Farmers more than any other profession don’t like being dictated to. In my opinion this stems from the fact that most farmers have always been self-employed and have never been employed. They are used to making decisions for themselves. Many farmers often like to go against the populist mood. For example, if cattle for finishing are scarce and prices are high many farmers hold out for higher prices, yet when prices are on the floor many panic sell, a counter cyclical logic no environmentalist or general member of the public will ever understand.  Farmers don’t like being dictated to

  • They are resilient

Farmers have weathered much tougher storms than the current GHG reduction targets. Bad weather, poor prices, taxation, succession issues, currency devaluations, EU directives, disease are just some off a long list of events and issues that have hardened farmers to be robust and resilient individuals in the face of adversity.

Environmentalists, the general public and policy makers have a long way to go to understand the psyche of farmers, yet is absolutely vital to do so in achieving the GHG reduction targets. I’ve said it before but now more than ever the time has come for environmentalists and the agriculturalists to work together rather than wasting time and energy scoring points in polarised debates.

When we reach the year 2050 and beyond, I am absolutely convinced that science will have won out and we will look back at farming and the agricultural sector as being the star performer in arresting global warming and perhaps even having contributed to global cooling by sequestering carbon produced by the other industries.

The time to start working together is now.