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We must learn how to produce more with less

McGuinness tells Athlone Conference

Environmental and agricultural policies are now intrinsically linked with a clear long-term sustainability focus. However, producers and consumers need to be convinced that what is sustainable in the long-term is also sustainable in the short to medium term, Mairead McGuinness, Ireland East Fine Gael MEP and food policy expert told a Teagasc AGRI Environmental conference this morning (Thursday) in Athlone.

The MEP says that pressure on all natural resources, including fuels, minerals and metals, soil, water and air, is intensifying and efforts must be made to make agriculture production more resource efficient. “Those in the emerging economies are already aspiring to the standards and consumption levels we enjoy but resources will not be there to meet such demand - if we continue our present production and consumption patterns.”

She said the EU 2020 strategy for sustainably growth has at its core the sustainable use of resources, environmental protection, a low carbon economy, reducing emissions and preventing biodiversity - all key issues for farming in the EU.

She said the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reform proposals from the Commission will intensify the integration of environmental requirements linking direct payments with environmental measures. “This ‘greening’ of the CAP is controversial and is not widely supported as it demands that environmental delivery be linked to 30pc of payments to farmers, with onerous penalties for failing to deliver.

“It is very clear that the proposals from Commissioner Ciolos were supported by both the Environment and Budget commissioners and that efforts to amend them will be difficult,” she said.

“There may be a catch 22 situation here. If we manage to reduce the 30pc link to environmental measures there is a real question of risking a reduction in the budget, given that the proposal is supported within the Commission as it currently stands.”

However, McGuinness argued that the specific greening proposals rather than their import were overly prescriptive and amounted to micro managing by the Commission at farm level.

“These proposals need to give farmers the freedom to choose the form of sustainable farming they will adapt and this change needs to happen for the proposals to be acceptable in the European Parliament and in the Council,” she added.

She said there is also a need for the Commission to draw up compliance rules that are “appropriate for a natural environment and far less bureaucratic than at present.”

She said that given the demands on agriculture into the future, with a need to feed a growing world population, estimated to be 9 billion by 2050, efforts must be made, through an intensification of research and innovation, to address the declining productivity of EU agriculture,.

“Our soils will have to produce more food for humans and more feed for livestock and fibre and fuel – the pressures will be enormous. Water pressures will intensify and some of the more basic tools of modern agriculture such as phosphorous use will run out, unless we act now and address sustainable use.”

McGuinness warned of the need to engage farmers in the environmental debate rather than the current scenario where farmers appear to be forced into environmental awareness and action.

“The best results will be achieved by co-operation not coercion. We must get across the message that the long- term security of our farming and food supply requires us to acknowledge and address the environmental challenges, but equally we must accept that addressing those challenges may not help the short term income position of farmers.

“The payment for public goods such as biodiversity, water protection etc through the CAP must and will continue, but farm incomes are lower relative to the rest of society and this is something which will have to be faced up to by policy makers.

“The key to addressing our environmental challenge is the sustainable intensification of agriculture through research efforts.

“We must learn how to produce more with less,” she concluded.