Climate change still a key focus for farming

This week saw scientists predicting that future weather patterns could have a devastating impact on future wheat yields in Europe.

I have sat in on a number of debates over the last number of months, all organised to assess the future prospects for agriculture. On all occasions it didn’t take long for the delegates in attendance to highlight the need for farming in Ireland to come up with an effective response to the Climate Change challenge. The reality is that government policies in countries around the world will change during the years ahead to take account of the threat – perceived or otherwise – which climate change now represents. And agriculture will not be insulated from these changes.

But at the end of the day, there must be a balance struck between what the local farming industry can do to meet its climate change obligations and maintaining our traditional food production practises. We all know that cattle and sheep produce methane – now recognised as a ‘greenhouse gas’. But does this mean that we have to give up producing milk, beef and lamb extensively from grazed grass? Recent months have seen this form of animal production come in for a degree of criticism, because some opinion formers are now of the view that it is not climate change friendly.

Consumers, on the other hand, rightly regard this form of food production as being natural and welfare friendly. All the research shows that efficient farming is the way forward in terms of meeting the Climate Change challenge. But this must not be achieved at the expense of throwing away the many natural advantages farmers on this island enjoy, chief among them being the option of putting ruminant livestock out to pasture during the grazing season.

The coming years will see global demand for food rocket. It would be folly, indeed, if Ireland’s agri food industry was only allowed to meet this challenge with the metaphorical ‘one hand tied behinds its back’. There is no doubt that our local farming sectors can significantly increase output in a wholly sustainable manner. They must be given every opportunity to prove that this can be the case!

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