Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

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

Dr. James Moran:

Regarding raising awareness of what is possible, it is all about demonstrating the art of the possible. Farmers respect and learn more from other farmers. There are always going to be farmer champions who take the lead. Many people will wait and see how they get on first and then follow on from that. Farmers always need to see that it is possible on their farms as well. One of the things we have done with the Farming for Nature ambassadors is we have tried to ensure throughout the process over the last three years since 2018 that there are representatives from every sector and land type in the country, ranging from small-scale market gardening to the large tillage farm, from small-scale micro dairy to the large-scale conventional dairy and from all the beef farmers, sheep farmers and organic to everything in between. There is an example of every type of farm and every type of landscape where solutions can be found.

In terms of building the framework then, when these farmer champions or ambassadors put their heads above the parapet and take a lead on this, the rest of society and the policy have to support them and ensure their reward is financially viable as a result of taking that leap of faith. I teach the agricultural environment management programme at GMIT and many of the young people coming into the sector need to see what is possible. Generally, they see what is possible when they see the Teagasc side and from what they see in the farming press. It is always about more efficiencies and more volume, which is right within our current system. It is the only way one can go, but they are forced along that route.

Teagasc has a big responsibility in this as our national advisory agency and research and training agency. It has to demonstrate the art of the possible more across other systems rather than just the conventional beef, dairy and tillage. It is doing that but it is struggling to change and adapt to it as well. It has the Signpost programme in which it is setting up 100 lighthouse farms around the country that are leading the way on this. However, in even a cursory look at that, only six or seven of the 100 farms are in pristine water catchments. We have gone from 500 pristine water bodies down to 20. What do those farmers look to within the Signpost programme? We need to be more ambitious in those programmes about representing the diversity of what is possible. It is not actually doing down conventional or other systems and the volume, because we will need the volume as well as the quality. However, we have to demonstrate the variety of what is possible so for young people coming into the sector they can see various different pathways in various landscapes. When we start to see that in the mainstream farming media, on demonstration farms in Teagasc and in these Signpost programmes, then we will know that change has happened.

It is not that we are going to replace one system. We will just have more systems and people adapting to their individual contexts and individual farms. As Dr. Dunford said, all fields and farms are unique, but farmers need to see the options that they can apply in the context that they know best.