Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

National Climate and Air Roadmap for the Agriculture Sector: Statements

 

10:30 am

Vincent P Martin (Green Party)

Before I discuss the main topic, it would be remiss of me not to avail of this opportunity to convey to the Minister the horror and disappointment of people in Kildare. When I go home to Kildare tonight, I will be asked if I availed of this opportunity to raise the proposed move of Horse Sport Ireland out of the county and the jobs loss. We are rich in heritage and that heritage is intrinsic to Kildare, and I hope it stays in Kildare. I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence.

In respect of the topic under discussion, I consider that what we have published and put before the House today in Ag Climatise is simply a first step in decarbonising agriculture and strengthening farm incomes. These are complementary to the steps taken by the Green Party since it moved into government. I believe that the 29 actions in this document will encourage diversification, which I will discuss shortly, and consolidation of farm incomes.

There have been some recent initiatives that are important to put on the record of the House, including locally led schemes. In this year's budget, the Minister of State, Deputy Hackett, secured €23 million of the ring-fenced carbon budget, I am sure with the support of the Minister and all of the Government parties, and that is topped up with an additional €56 million to pilot a range of new results-based, locally led environmental schemes. These farmer-led initiatives, like the Burren programme, the hen harrier programme and the biodiversity regeneration in a dairying environment, BRIDE, programme, have demonstrated how farmers can lead the way on sustainable agriculture. The schemes to be funded by this year's budget include habitat creation and the re-wetting of peat soils, and will provide for biodiversity training for farmers. This will allow farmers to take the lead again and will help to fund the development of a new flagship environmental scheme as part of the next rural programme under the next Common Agricultural Policy.

In horticulture, a 50% budget increase up to €9 million has been secured to help Irish growers to capitalise upon the growing trend towards plant-based diets. We are currently net importers of a range of fruit and vegetables, and we can and should grow more of these staple foods here ourselves.

With respect to organics, the Minister of State, Deputy Hackett, negotiated a 33% increase in the budget for the organic farming scheme, up to nearly €16 million. This will help to support the growing demand from both farmers and consumers for this type of production. Organic farming is a model that works closely with nature and has been shown to have benefits for carbon reduction, biodiversity and water quality. We have a unique position as a clean, green island. Of course, the Minister of State is a member of the republican party and it is green for another reason, but we have a green island that should be the HQ of agricultural production in the world. We should be leaders of that.

In respect of forestry, which has been discussed in this debate, we have made significant inroads. The Minister of State, Deputy Hackett, brought the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 through the Oireachtas. It balanced a more efficient approach to forestry appeals with the need to preserve and enhance citizens’ access to justice on environmental matters. While that was not ideal, I appreciate that the logjam, the number of appeals and the delay in those appeals has been stopping essential progress.

As I said, I wish to talk about the need for essential diversification for agriculture to survive and thrive. However, in respect of what Senator Mullen said, if any farmers are being demonised, I am not aware of it and I would condemn it outright as a retrograde step. No one in the Kildare Greens demonises farming. The future is that we embrace farming.I am a member of the IFA, although I am in the horticultural sector. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Pippa Hackett, is a farmer. Farming is the future. They are the best friends and the custodians of the earth. If it is done right, no farmer's income should suffer diminution in income or quality of life provided we tackle climate change properly. It is all about leaving no one behind, especially the most vulnerable.

I will outline some ideas on diversification. The whiskey industry is vast. Traditionally, it was not very green but the Scotch producers have done remarkable work in recent times. The Irish whiskey industry has witnessed phenomenal growth in the past decade, growing from sales of under 5 million cases in 2010 to 12 million cases in January this year, a 140% level of growth. During this time the number of operational distilleries has risen from four to 38. They directly employed 1,640 people in pre-Covid times. Our whiskey industry has invested €1.55 billion in the all-Ireland economy during these years. The aggregate value of whiskey exports from the island of Ireland to more than 140 markets reached €890 million in 2019. It is off the charts.

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