Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

National Climate and Air Roadmap for the Agriculture Sector: Statements

 

10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. It is great to have him here and to have an opportunity to discuss what is a very ambitious vision he has set out for his Department. Since he has come into the Department, he has hit the ground running. He has actively engaged with the farming community and the environmental groups as well because he knows and sees, as do all of us, that the future is in working together and ensuring that farming and tackling climate change go hand in hand. The two can and will work together. Our farmers know this very well, and they are the first to step up to the plate when it comes to tackling climate change.

The Minister has set out a very ambitious vision in the roadmap. What is fantastic about it is that we are acknowledging not only that we have to reduce emissions and get to carbon-neutral farming but also that we have to do so by helping farmers, working with them and getting their co-operation to embark upon this very ambitious plan. It is a challenge for us as a very strong agricultural country. As Senator Flynn very eloquently put it, it is a matter of the livelihoods of many farming families throughout the country. We should never forget that fact and never forget how many communities throughout the country are sustained by farming. I think of my county, Mayo, a predominantly rural county, with many people farming for generations. It is more than a business or a livelihood; it has been in families for generations. There is emotion attached to it. There is love and passion attached to what they do. It is very difficult to put a value or a price on any of that. I do not think we can. Again, they are among the most eager citizens in the country to tackle climate change and to work with all of us.

We now want to move towards sustainable food production. It is really important that the European Union continues to focus on sustainable food production within the European Union, that we continue to fund the CAP adequately and, as a member state of the European Union, that we fund sustainable food production and fund farming families to produce that food. I do not want to see us make it difficult for our home-grown producers to produce food here and then to import produce from other parts of the world. Clearly, that is not in any way effective in reducing carbon emissions; the emissions are just moved somewhere else. The focus, therefore, needs to be on producing food within the European Union. Ireland is a leader in food production, particularly in the dairy sector, and I want to see us be a leader in all aspects of food production. That is what this roadmap sets out. Very often when it comes to tackling climate change, the discussion can be quite high level and it is sometimes difficult to identify the clear actions.That is what this plan and roadmap seek to address. We now have a clear roadmap, with actions, that sets out how we will achieve a 10% to 15% reduction in climate emissions. This is very laudable and commendable.

It is important to acknowledge that the agriculture sector accounts for 35% emissions in the State, based on 2019 figures. Clearly it is an area where we must do some work. We can do that by working with farmers and communities. I am happy to see there will be a specific focus on tackling fertilisers. The type of fertiliser used is having a negative impact on some parts of our environment. I draw the Seanad's attention, and that of the Minister, to Lough Carra in County Mayo, which people may be familiar with. It is quite a rare lake in its composition. It is one of the very few remaining in Europe. The lake featured in the "Eco Eye" series some weeks ago. I grew up near this lake and we all swam in it as children. One would not swim in it today. Over the last two decades since I was a child, I have seen the continued deterioration in that lake because of increased intensity of farming around the area. Farmers need to be supported to make those changes so we can protect really important environmental sites. It is my strong view that this particular lake should have the same environmental protections as the Burren because it is that rare and that precious, and it has been damaged over the past decades. This is just one example of the many reasons we need to make these changes for future generations.

I am glad to see there will also be a focus on increasing horticulture and tillage in the State. It is very important because there are so many opportunities for farmers there, including the opportunity to diversify the types of farming in Ireland.

Finally, I will touch on the area of renewable energy and rewarding farmers for the carbon benefit they give back to communities and to the country. It is very important that if we are to use farmers' lands to reduce emissions, we reward them for doing that. I commend the Minister on the agri-environmental pilot scheme that was launched. This is a very good and positive step that has been well received in many parts of rural Ireland.

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