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Agriculture and Land Use Sectors under Climate Action Plan 2021

Message from Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue

In my opinion, Ireland is the sustainable food capital of the world and our farmers are the pioneers who will lead out in Ireland meeting out climate ambitions.

The sustainability of Ireland’s food production system is well recognised internationally and acts as a key competitive driver in international markets.

This is due to the efforts of all actors across the supply chain, starting of course with our primary producers. Without our farmers, foresters, and fishers, we simply wouldn’t have the wider agri-food industry that we are all so proud of today.

We do need to acknowledge the challenges ahead for food production systems globally and no more so in Ireland where 37% of all national greenhouse gas emissions come from the agri-food sector.

Whilst farmers have delivered much by way of efficiency gains in recent years, it must also be recognised that overall emissions have been on an increasing trend. The publication of the Climate Action Plan, outlining a 22%-30% reduction target for our sector, means that we need to get our emissions profile on a declining trend over the remainder of the decade.

There are specific actions that we can take on our farms to set us on the right trajectory, starting from today, and I will touch on these later. Existing and known measures can get the sector most of the way there in terms of meeting our target range, and I am confident that research and innovation will provide solutions to enable the sector to take the final few steps.

It is important that I set out the way I want our industry to evolve over the coming years.

It is fair to say that our great sector is facing into a very different decade to the one we just experience.

The last decade was one of volume growth, the next decade will be one of sustainable value growth. This is a central tenet of the Food Vision 2030 strategy I launched earlier this year. We are a sector that touches off every rural parish in the country, that generates over €14bn in exports and a sector that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country.

Food Vision is a landmark, because it charts a course for how Ireland can become a world leader in sustainable food systems. This means the sector being profitable throughout, having broad societal benefits and having a positive or neutral impact on the environment. It is worth noting that the Strategy identifies being able to demonstrate sustainability in all its forms as the source of competitive advantage for agri-food but it makes clear that if this is to be realised, the sector, along with Government and society, have to make significant changes.

Food Vision takes a systematic approach to addressing the challenge of ensuring that Ireland can continue to produce high quality food in a manner that protects the environment and mitigates climate change.

Mission 1 of the Strategy focuses solely on this with seven goals across climate, biodiversity, water quality, forests, seafood, the circular bioeconomy and Origin Green. Within these, solutions are proposed in the form of over sixty specific actions, with ten of these on climate alone. Food Vision commits us to producing detailed plans to manage the sustainable environmental footprint of the dairy and beef sectors.

It will roll out carbon farming, dramatically increasing our research into mitigation technologies appropriate for our grassland livestock systems, playing a leading role in how emissions from livestock are understood and accounted, promoting regenerative agriculture, scaling up renewable energy and focusing on energy efficiency, and more besides.  Ultimately, this is where Food Vision 2030 and the Climate Action Plan closely align.

While our Ag-Climatise roadmap will be updated, reprioritising some actions with new numbers to reflect the increased climate ambition under the Climate Action Plan, it contains many of the actions necessary to achieve our climate objectives. Ireland’s competitive advantage comes from the production of grazed grass, and the high-quality meat and milk protein that are produced from these grazed pastures.

With continuing global demand for high quality animal-based proteins, it would make no sense for Ireland to move away from this system of agricultural production. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has acknowledged the important role that carbon efficient livestock can make to the global food system. Ireland must ensure that it occupies this space, and the good news is that we are already a long way towards achieving this objective.

Over the next 8 years, we must reduce fertiliser use by 20% from its peak usage of 408,000 tonnes in 2018. This is a positive thing to do from an environmental perspective and we can achieve this objective without any impact on farm profitability.

We can do this by prioritising the incorporation of clover and multispecies swards into our grasslands. I will support farmers who make this transition and have already made €1 million available for next year to support the sector in this regard. We must also protect the valuable nutrients our organic manures contain, applying these manures back to the land using Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) technology.

Supported by my Department, farmers have invested over €80 million in this technology and we will continue to support farmers in this transition. For our beef farmers, we must find ways of getting our animals to the target finishing weights in a more efficient manner.

Reducing the finishing date of our prime beef cattle to an average of 24 months is one of the most obvious way of reducing absolute methane emissions. We need to find ways to increase tree planting on our farms, this can be done in conjunction with livestock production as agro-forestry, with many associated biodiversity benefits.

I will work with Minister of State Pippa Hackett to ensure our forestry policy and licensing system is modernised and can support this transition.

Despite the pressures on our public finances, I have secured exchequer funding of €2.3bn for our new CAP Strategic Plan (2023-2027). This will include funding for a new Agri-environment scheme, targeting funding at 50,000 farmers over the period.

Importantly, and in line with the EU Farm to Fork policy direction, there will be an increased focus on results-based payments- the higher the environmental delivery by our farmers, the higher the payment they receive.

This results-based approach will work and has proved popular with farmers with initiatives such as the Hen Harrier project, which not only has resulted in increased farmer payments, but also improved protection for this iconic bird. The results-based REAP pilot  which I launched this year was also significantly oversubscribed, showing farmers are very much up for this new approach.

While this will be a decade of change, I want to ensure everyone that the economic viability of Irish farms will remain an absolute priority of this Government. We need to find new financial models to support our most vulnerable sectors. I am committed to the concept of carbon farming and I believe this is one way we can achieve this.

While the CAP Strategic Plan will undoubtedly play a key role, we must look to target additional sourcing of funding, whether it be from the agri industry or even companies outside of the agriculture sphere who may look to our sector from a corporate social responsibility perspective.

I have supported our primary producers, I am supporting our primary producers and I will continue to support our primary producers. Without them, we will have no future and I want to ensure that this a sector that people are genuinely excited and enthused about.