‘Food Harvest 2020 targets are achievable but will be difficult’

Achieving the targets set out in Food Harvest 2020 while and keeping within environmental limits will be difficult, but is manageable, according to a new report from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture.

The report on land use: maximising its potential, states that the key issues will be:
• Relevant ecosystem goods and services;
• Practical methods of sustainable land use – especially farm management tools; and
• Policy tools (including financial incentives).

It goes on to say that implementing those mitigation measures, identified in the Environmental Analysis of the Food Harvest 2020 report, in particular up-skilling all farm advisors in good agricultural and environmental management of farms, extending the audience for farm talks and discussions, increasing the amount of demonstration farms participating in Origin Green, and promoting knowledge transfer between farmers in any way possible is vital.

Implementing those concepts considered of worth, including identifying the land most suited to sustainable intensification, land sharing, use of low-carbon farming methods, nutrient management planning and resource efficiency all work towards maximising food production with the minimum inputs possible, as set out in Food Harvest 2020, it says.

Across the agri-food sector, there are various programmes in place, numerous studies on-going and it has been highlighted again and again that education is the key, the report says, and emphasising financial rewards for farmers as well as environmental benefits of the various methods detailed will all help to maximise land use potential.

Practical ways in which farmers can increase food production while minimising environmental impacts and making cost savings include:

• Use of various low carbon farming tools such as the Carbon Navigator;
• Nutrient management planning; and,
• Availing of best practice through participation in, inter alia, the BETTER farms programme and using SmartFarming recommendations.

At farm-level, increased use of high technology plans and the importance of knowledge transfer to farmers through upskilling for all agricultural and environmental farm advisors was highlighted in the report. In addition, greater use of farmer discussion groups and demonstration farms were identified as key ways of increasing food production in a sustainable manner.

This report concludes that Ireland can, in principle, reach its Food Harvest 2020 targets and environmental commitments but that it will be an ongoing challenge.