So here’s a fundamental truth that Ireland’s environment minister, Eamon Ryan, seems to have overlooked – the challenge of climate change and that of feeding the world, are two sides of the same coin.
Farming for carbon cannot, and must not, be addressed in total isolation.
It stands to reason, therefore, that food production must be retained as an overarching priority for Irish agriculture.
Moreover, if Ireland does not play its part in helping to feed the world’s growing population, countries like Brazil will step in to fill the void. And how sustainable is that prospect, looking to the future?
Cutting down yet more of the Amazon rainforest does not seem to be a very climate-friendly way of feeding the extra 3.5 billion people that will inhabit this planet come 2050.
Realities of food production
I sense these are realities that Eamon Ryan gives very little thought to, as he ponders his future policy options.
Moreover, I also get the feeling that the aforementioned minister spends very little time in the company of his cabinet colleague, Simon Coveney.
One of the Cork man’s lasting legacies as Ireland’s agriculture minister was his coining of the phrase ‘sustainable intensification’ where agriculture is concerned.
It was a theme that rose to prominence during the run-up to the 2015 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) review. And it’s as relevant today as it was back then.
Meanwhile, Eamon Ryan seems intent on running the production capacity of Irish agriculture into the ground. For the record, his Green Party colleague in Northern Ireland, Clare Bailey, seems to be afflicted with the same obsession.
Sustainable Irish agriculture
But let’s stick to the facts. Ireland’s ability to produce milk, beef and lamb sustainably from grazed grass is the envy of the world. What’s more, our grassland model works and it is wholly carbon friendly.
All the ‘sceptics’ reading this piece will, no doubt, be asking the question – where is the proof?
Well it’s all very simple, Irish farmers can currently produce up to 10t of dry matter (DM) per hectare, per year, from their grassland areas, without the need for irrigation.
We are a rain-fed agriculture. In contrast, all the world’s farming super powers need irrigation to get them over the line from crop production point of view.
And this includes New Zealand. A case in point is the fact that the vast majority of dairy farmers in that country now rely on irrigation to maintain their production levels.
Using ground water to produce crops is one of the most wasteful ways of managing the earth’s most precious resource.
In contrast, Irish farmers can rely on the rain that regularly falls on these shores to ‘fuel’ their farming enterprises in the most natural way possible.
The even better news is that Irish farmers can do so much more to improve their levels of grassland management, making them both more efficient and sustainable at the same time.
Eamon Ryan commenting on agriculture
In many ways, Irish agriculture hasn’t yet started to respond to the challenge of climate change in a meaningful way. But, no doubt, the coming years will see great strides made to this end.
Back in Dublin, however, Eamon Ryan continues to snipe at the farming industry, coming up with suggestions which, if implemented, would see Irish farmers looking to the future with one hand tied behind their backs.
He is also unable, or unwilling, to take on board the reality that his climate change principles would serve to wreak havoc across rural Ireland.
Thousands of jobs would be lost within the food processing sector, leading to the absolute devastation of myriad rural communities.
I thought it was the foremost objective of every Irish politician to ‘support the flag’ first and foremost. It seems that Eamon Ryan has forgotten this very important principle, where Irish agriculture is concerned.