Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Reduction of Carbon Emissions of 51% by 2030: Discussion (Resumed)

Mr. John Keane:

I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak. It is a great privilege to speak in front of it on some of the important issues we face. I am the president of Macra na Feirme and I have been for the past six weeks. I am joined today by Mr. Shane Fitzgerald, the national agricultural affairs chairperson and Ms Gillian Richardson, the national policy officer within Macra na Feirme.

Agriculture is one of the main land uses in Ireland. As a result, it has a major role to play within our habitat, water quality and our greenhouse gas emissions profile. Our landscape is like no other in any of the member states across the EU, with 72% of the land under agricultural usage. Agriculture is Ireland’s leading indigenous industry, with approximately 164,000 people employed in it. The fabric of rural Ireland and the countryside, is made up of family farms. They go about their business on a daily basis, doing their best to produce sustainably produced, premium-brand leading products that command a global premium right across the global market.

The target reduction of 51% by 2030 is almost twice what was agreed approximately two years ago by the previous Government. If it were applied to agriculture, it is approximately three times the previous target, which was set two years ago. As an industry and as young farmers, we feel that the lack of understanding and consideration for biogenic methane can have major impacts both now and into the future, as we develop our careers. Given the scientific basis which highlights the short-lived nature of the gas, we must account methane differently, as has been demonstrated in other jurisdictions.

Sectoral targets delivered under the climate action Bill must be both realistic and achievable. We must not disadvantage Irish farmers or remove their productive efficiencies by restricting their ability to produce top-quality produce. When we compare ourselves to our EU member states on an emissions per unit produce basis, we Irish farmers are not only the best but are leaders. Our dairy sector is the best across the European Union and is among the top such sectors around the world. Our beef sector is among the best of our European counterparts.

The important point in terms of climate and our embracing of technologies and of the environmental challenge that lies ahead is consideration for the impact of generation renewal, the encouragement of young farmers and young people and how they can drive practices and address challenges on farms. On an ever-increasing basis, we see highly educated, highly motivated young people accessing the sector and driving forward new and improved practices. It is important that any climate actions in respect of the environment, water quality or biodiversity take cognisance of the importance that young farmers and young people can play in driving this important change. Looking at the statistics over the past 20 or 30 years, the numbers of young farmers and of active farmers under the age of 35 continue to diminish. It cannot be left that young farmers are forgotten and that provisions are not made. Macra na Feirme believes that benefiting young farmers, providing support for young farmers and driving generational renewal will not only have a positive impact on young farmers but will have a major effect on the environmental impact of agriculture.

Certainty for the future must be provided for young farmers. Any young people entering into different businesses and different occupations within a sector, whether public or private, always look for certainty in their careers and for a ladder or pathway to climb. Young farmers and farmers in general face ever-increasing challenges such as legislative burdens or challenges in respect of produce and input costs. We need to provide an environment that is friendly to young farmers; one that encourages and provides pathways into the future and which drives generational renewal. We also have to drive and improve our environmental impact. As young farmers, we are fully committed to playing our role in addressing environmental challenges. Macra na Feirme has never been found wanting in embracing new technologies, in putting forward challenging policies or in embracing what needs to be done to address change. We recognise the important role we have both as farmers and as young farmers.

The distinct situation we are in lies in our ability to sequester carbon in conjunction with reducing our emissions. It is a very important role and I have no doubt that we will play it. Given appropriate time and policies that are achievable and complementary to current farming practices, which deliver on economic success for the future of farming, we, as young farmers, will respond and continue to improve our environmental impact. I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak and I look forward to questions from members.


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