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)
Dr. Oliver Moore:
There is a conundrum in terms of kilos versus hectares. We need to get both going because we cannot afford not to. Farming takes up three quarters of all the land in Ireland. We have to think about the per hectare impact. There are only four countries left with a nitrates directive derogation in Europe, namely, Belgium, Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands. It is being phased out in Denmark and the Netherlands.
The conundrum is that the rules of the nitrates directive derogation farmers operate under are stricter and better. They are the rules every farmer should have to stick to an extent. There is integration of clover, better trading, low emissions slurry spreading and so on. The conundrum is that we are aiming to increase the cow herd by 170,000 or 180,000 by 2027. We are not aiming for stabilisation in that area. There is potential for overall stabilisation but that means a loss to the beef sector.
It is a much better performance in terms of the rules that derogation farmers have to operate under. It will not help us to reduce our absolute emissions and we have to do that. We need to work out ways through the signpost programme and other initiatives to fast track, through the just transition funds, the availability of all of these technologies to other farmers, not just derogation farmers, while concurrently increasing rapidly the growth of the organic sector. It is a viable option for farmers because there is a €20 billion market in France and Germany alone for organics.
One of the problems with a lot of the agri-environmental schemes and so on is not just that they pay more than organics, it is that there are no markets for the produce. There is no distinct or separate market; there is just the generic market. For example, in the results-based environmental agri pilot, REAP, scheme there is an initiative whereby farmers can get up to €400 per hectare for managing grasses in a particular way but there is no output for that beyond the standard markets. Organic farmers are paid half of that but there is a market. Only 300 people signed up to the organic farming scheme when it was recently offered because farmers were advised to go into the REAP scheme instead as it paid €400 per hectare.
As the IFA said, organic farming needs a €500 per hectare payment so that it is comparable with the basic agri-environmental schemes in Ireland and the rest of Europe. Payments in the rest of Europe can be up to €1,000 or more for arable farming. There are even payments of over €2,000 for fruiting bushes in conversion. An Irish farmer who wants to put in fruiting bushes will get €300 under an organic scheme but his or her competitor in, I understand, Estonia will get €2,100 per hectare. That is most extreme example I am aware of, but it goes to show that we are below average.
If we want farmers to be able to transition, we need to pay them properly. We have an extensive grazing season in Ireland, which is the longest in western Europe. That is a good thing. We will always have a certain amount of grass and livestock, which is a competitive advantage we have. We cannot compete as well with the Mediterranean area for horticulture, but we still need to grow our horticulture. Nevertheless, we need a sustainable level of livestock production, to rapidly increase our organic farming and horticulture and to maintain our tillage.
We need to use the carbon budget spending to help farmers to transition and make eco-schemes attractive so that farmers want to use them. We need to make them attractive and impactful and introduce things like stubble fields in order that carbon is kept in and birds have feed. There are simple agronomic practices available under eco-schemes. We need to help farmers. The biodiversity regeneration in a dairying environment, BRIDE, project is an amazing example of biodiversity maintenance in the Cork and Waterford area. It involves intensive dairy production but each farm has worked to improve its ecological performance. Where can I buy BRIDE produce? I cannot buy it. A local creamery would have to be developed. It would probably have five people working in it but had 50 people working in it 50 years ago. That is the problem.
We need regional-level agroecological transition in order that I can buy food that is produced to higher standards. That is where the new rural policy announced by the Government recently has some potential. It has some interesting and innovative ideas for clustering developments in towns and villages. We need to create an infrastructure that supports as much local and regional agroecological employment in food processing as possible, while also acknowledging the fact that we have a long grazing season and produce meat and dairy to a good standard.