Compartmentalisation does not serve the national debate. The current public narrative around the COP27 process is a reminder that unfortunately the national debate about decarbonisation of Irish agriculture, involving Food Vision 2030, remains as binary and divisive as ever.

Given that this week also sees voting taking place in the mid-term elections in the U.S, I am reminded of a quote from democrat, Adlai Stevenson, about offering a truce in the row between the democrat and republican parties in the U.S in the 1950s.

“If the republicans stop telling people lies about us, we’ll stop telling people the truth about them.”

That’s not to say that there has not been a huge challenge over the last number of years in absorbing and comprehending the major role that agriculture plays in the national decarbonisation challenge.

Or that Irish agriculture is not guilty at times of talking only to it self. But, following the long drawn-out process of agreeing sectoral carbon budgets earlier this year, Irish agriculture not only has a meaningful plan, but is well into execution mode.

This is in contrast with many of the other major sectors charged with meeting decarbonisation targets.

Food Vision programme

There is very active engagement currently in agriculture around how the specifics of the Food Vision 2030 programmes can be seen to deliver against the sectoral climate targets in dairy and livestock.

In particular, the balance in the two vision documents between those measures directed at reducing emissions per animal / per litre of milk, and those focused more on reducing emissions based on incentivising reduced numbers per se.

In contrast, the so called national debate about climate change has largely ignored the specifics of the Food Vision process, and unfortunately continues to promote the facile notion that the agriculture target is too low and in itself will not be met.

It is hard not to be sceptical about the anti-agriculture group’s grasp of reality, when one of its key platforms continues to be that Irish livestock-based agriculture is in the wrong (non vegan) ‘food category’, and that Irish agriculture is also ‘guilty’ of exporting  90% of our output.

The reality for the majority of Irish business, and indeed for 100% of the foreign direct investment (FDI) sector, is that they are export-focused because the Irish market is too small to support large-scale industrial development.

Importance of exports

In the real world, Irish farming and agri-business’ continuing capability to support 260,000 jobs directly and indirectly (one job in 10 in the Irish economy), is fundamentally based on having access to global export markets.

This means Irish agri-exports going to over 160 different market destinations worldwide and accounting for 90% of Irish agri output.

This sustained capability to hold onto mature markets while increasing access to, and developing, new markets is a huge endorsement of the capability of our food and drink companies and our state bodies which support this export capability, like Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland.

As we speak, and as the COP27 process unfolds, there are significant concerns that jobs in the high-tech sectors in Ireland could be under threat as the economic headwinds of recession, war, inflation and energy price impacts play out.

A major takeaway from analysis of the collapse of the Irish and global economies from 2008 to 2012 was not just the need for greater oversight of financial markets, but above all, the requirement to have a spread of economic activity across the Irish  economy.

This realisation of the importance of balance led to a rediscovery over this period of the unique impact of the Irish agri sector across the regional economy and in particular, cross governmental support for Irish dairy growth after the abolition of quotas.

This refocus on agriculture as an economic powerhouse has delivered, by 2022, more than doubling of dairy output and exports; a 50% increase in meat exports; and above all, an increase of almost €4 billion in expenditure in the Irish economy coming from Irish livestock-based agriculture.