Thursday, 12 May 2022
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Security: Statements
Seán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
In the short time that I have, there are many points that I wish to cover. I want to start with the BRIDE Project, which will be familiar to many people who are concerned with biodiversity and partnership with the agriculture and farming sector. This is a project situated in north County Cork. I had the good fortune to visit the project on Monday last with the Labour Party leader, Deputy Ivana Bacik. I want to express my gratitude to Donal Sheehan, Sinéad Hickey and all of the team there for facilitating us in what was a great learning environment and a wonderful tutorial.
The model is a very simple one. It is a results-based demonstration project that is designed to increase the quantity and quality of habitats on intensely managed farmland. That is the key phrase – “intensely managed farmland”. The project is located in the River Bride valley of north County Cork and it will explore an innovative implementation of a results-based approach for wildlife habitats or intensively managed farmland. It aims to improve biodiversity and environmental awareness on intensive Irish farmland, reward environmental performance and highlight this nationally. It is also there to facilitate market rewards for sustainability.
I raise this because it is part of a European innovation project which is funded by the Department. It has key partners, which include the local authority, Glanbia, Teagasc, Bord Bia, the National Biodiversity Data Centre, Kepak and Birdwatch Ireland. I hope it will continue to be funded as its funding line runs out at the end of this year, as I understand it, and I hope the Minister will have the good sense to continue to support it. I believe the 42 farm holdings that are involved in this, which are of varying sizes and have different offerings in terms of what they produce, form a key model. When the new CAP comes in, particularly in regard to designing Pillar II instruments under the agri-environment climate measures scheme, I believe this is a key project that would plug into that Pillar II objective.
If we can get farmers to devote 10% of their landholdings for nature without losing income and if schemes can be devised, such as the BRIDE Project, which encourage and nudge farmers through a process of inspections to implement more environmental goods, such as riparian goods, grassland margins, hedgerows, increasing biodiversity and so forth, it will have a massive impact. Farmers are not encouraged in the current CAP to give more to those margins on their landholdings because there is a penalty for that. That is self-evident, as we all know. If the Minister can create a scheme using the BRIDE Project as a model, by which he would design an agri-environmental climate measure so that the farmer or landholder does not lose income but, in fact, gains income through a process as devised through this innovation partnership, and that is scaled up, scaled out and translated throughout the country, the Minister would find that many farmers would buy into it.
We are increasingly losing biodiversity. That is self-evident and we all acknowledge it. The way to get farmers back into managing the countryside is to ensure there is a financial incentive. The beautiful thing about the BRIDE Project is that it provides financial incentives. Where somebody implements sustainable or biodiversity measures, there is a marking scheme. The marking scheme determines the amount of money the person will gain, so income is being generated for the farmer. I will leave it at that. I hope the project will continue to be funded and I would love the BRIDE Project to be plugged into the next CAP under the Pillar 2 agri-environment climate measure schemes that will be devised. That would be a good thing for this country and the Minister would find many farmers would participate in it.
On the issue of forestry, there have been many repeated promises in respect of forestry growth in this country. We know the environmental benefits with regard to sequestration. However, despite the repeated promises to forest owners, they are still only getting half the licences required to meet the Department's targets. It is just not enough for the sector. Are we getting any closer to having licences issued within an acceptable timeframe of 120 days? The answer currently is "No". Second, are we going to meet our targets for 2022? We planted 2,000 ha in 2021, but it appears from looking at the metrics that we will end up with fewer than 2,000 ha for 2022. I wish there was a greater sense of urgency about the potential of the forestry sector to deliver. We still do not have what I would call a fit-for-purpose ash dieback scheme. We talk about the great game of hurling but, and I have raised this in the House previously, there has been no progress that I can see on the ash dieback scheme. Forestry is one of the sectors that can deliver much for us as an island. There has to be a greater degree of political imperative put behind the forestry sector to make sure we achieve the growth targets that are necessary to sustain the sector.