Monday, 22 February 2021
National Climate and Air Roadmap for the Agriculture Sector: Statements
Garret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and thank him for the work he has been doing in recent months in the agricultural industry. It has been a very difficult time for farmers and different sectors of agriculture. He is working hard in the Department to resolve many of the problems.
I welcome the discussion, the climate and air roadmap and what the Minister is trying to do in that regard. Many Senators have spoken well about the positive impact this will make over the coming years not only in the agriculture industry but also in wider society and the country. When we talk about climate action, there is always a natural fear within the agricultural community about what it means or how it will impact its industry. Nevertheless, it has to be said that no industry in the country has acted more decisively in changing the way it works, does business and manages its farms than agriculture and farmers. That needs to be recognised. The changes are being made through supports from Europe and from the Minister's Department, such as the targeted agriculture modernisation schemes, TAMS, or the green low-carbon agri-enviroment scheme, GLAS. These are all initiatives for farmers - tillage, dairy or beef - to make changes in their land to better the environment. They have been incentivised to do that and this is no different.
I come from an area in Tipperary that is considered to have very good land, with an awful lot of intensive farming. For some, that might be seen as a bad thing in terms of climate change, but there needs to be a balance between intensive farming, on the one hand, and managing the land and caring for the environment, on the other, and that balance can be difficult to manage. An article published two weeks ago in the Irish Farmers' Journaldiscussed nitrates derogation and the impact that might have on certain regions in the country. South County Tipperary, County Kilkenny and north County Cork were all mentioned as areas where the intensity of farming is too high.That creates fear within the farming community about what might happen. If changes come and decisions need to be made regarding the intensity of farming, then support for farmers will also be required because we cannot convince people to change their ways unless we incentivise them in some way, including financially. There is a range of issues facing those involved in agriculture at the moment. We have a tillage farm at home and changes have been made to the sprays that we can use, for example. Adjustments always need to be made but the tillage sector has experienced a number of tough years recently in terms of price. There are issues in the forestry sector at the moment too and I know from speaking to people in Tipperary that there is real frustration around licences. That said, I know that the Department is doing as much as it can.
We must acknowledge that the plan is a good step forward and most farmers will recognise that. However, the one thing that farmers would ask for is recognition that changes they make will have costs. That must be recognised but if it is not, the additional cost will be put on the consumer and prices will go up. I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well.