Environment must be at core of farming – McGuinness

The “artificial divide” between farmers and environmentalists has been criticised by MEP Mairead McGuinness, who said that many farmers are “acutely conscious” of the environment.

McGuinness, First Vice-President of the European Parliament, made the comments while presenting an award for environmentally-friendly farming at the weekend.

The Farming for Nature Award saw six nominees shortlisted, with the Calvey family from Mayo taking home the prize.

Presenting the award, McGuinness said it highlights that farmers are aware of how they affect their environment, calling the shortlisted nominees “role models”.

These finalists provide examples from many parts of the country of how care for the environment is core to their farming enterprise. This is a positive farming story; all too often we only hear about what is wrong about farming.

McGuinness said: “Pressure on the natural environment, on biodiversity, air quality and soils are real, but so too is farmer awareness of these challenges.

“What farmers need is help and support to deliver for the environment – and that support includes advisory systems which focus on integrating environmental delivery with production,” she added.

McGuinness went on to claim that environmental issues are high on the political agenda, and said the proposed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would put more of an emphasis on these problems.

The reforms will apparently give member states more of a say in how CAP’s objectives are met, with nine new reforms on the way, three of which are environment-focused.

Climate change mitigation and adaption, sustainable energy, sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air, biodiversity, ecosystem services and preservation of habitats and landscapes are highlighted in the reforms.

“In future, mandatory requirements will include preserving carbon-rich soils, through protection of wetlands and peatlands, nutrient management tools to protect water quality, reducing ammonia and nitrous oxide levels and crop rotation,” said McGuinness.

The MEP also slammed the narrative surrounding farmers and the environment, saying: “Farmers are too often portrayed as the problem rather than the solution.”

She called on farmers to take control of the agenda and to speak out on how they protect and preserve the environment.