Climate change still a key focus for agriculture

The past week has seen a number of leading EU opinion formers, including former Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler, highlight the need for agriculture to become more environmentally sustainable in the way that it goes about its business

In my own case, I have sat in on a number of debates over the last year, 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.

There is also little doubt that the issue of climate change will feature prominently in the all future debate leading up to the future development of the Common Agricultural Policy. The scope to introduce cross compliance measures which lessen the impact of climate change is significant. But is this good news, or bad news for Irish agriculture? Answers on a post card please!