No farmer in Ireland “will be forced” to rewet their lands under the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law, the Minister for the Environment, Eamon Ryan, has stated at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Climate Change Conference 2023 today (Thursday, May 25).

Minister Eamon Ryan told Agriland that while he believes that proposed Nature Restoration Law targets could be met by employing state-owned lands, “more needed to be done for climate here”.

“My argument is there is going to be an income here for farmers – I think where there is funding available – and no farmer is going to be forced – but when there’s an income that can come out of it, and also a premium in my mind for our product, in this really good farming system that we can develop, that’s the opportunity,” Minister Ryan said.

He believes that any future funding linked to the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law must be in addition to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding.

The minister said it was important for the future of agriculture in Ireland to “cut some of the costs” by using less fertilisers and pesticides.

He said a key question then in relation to this is whether the proposed new farming system would deliver a better price for farmers and he said that agri-food companies also had a part to play and that they have to “pay farmers more for sustainable solutions”.

The minister said retailers would not buy produce or pay a premium price for produce if it did not come from a “truly Origin Green source”.

Minister Ryan said in relation to any new farming system: “It will still be people farming, still grazing – this is about good management of the land, farmers are best placed; they know their land best.

“No one is going to be forced, they will have to be paid, but in that system then that smart farming – you’re paying the farmers for the knowledge of the land, the really high quality management of the soil as well as the water table, and that’s a really bright future for Irish farming in my mind.

“And for those who can depict it as ‘oh you’re going to flood the land and force people out of farming’ – the exact opposite, the future of farming is going this green way. Are we going to turn our backs on the green image that we have and the advantage that we have?” the minister continued.

Protect family farms – Ryan

Minister Ryan said that the first principle should be to protect the family farm.

“We don’t want to go to an intensive, industrial-type of production system where the Irish family farm loses out, and the family farm system is the green system in my mind, and that’s the future of Irish farming,” he said.

He said that Ireland could not continue to trade on an “Origin Green brand if we’re not truly green in everything we do”.

The minister said the biggest risk to the Irish family farming system and to the food industry was “being called out” for not living out the brand in reality and the practice.

He said everyone agrees that Ireland wants a family farming system and added “we’re not going to compete with 15,000 cattle in a lot outside Beijing, we’re not going to compete with prairies of Ohio, but we can actually compete as a producer of green food which also delivers and maintains this island as a beautiful island”.

Minister Ryan also dismissed those who he said were “scaremongering I would have to call it” that the Nature Restoration Law is going to “destroy our family farming system I absolutely fundamentally disagree”.

“Are we going to vote for nature destruction law? Is that going to be the future? It doesn’t make any sense,” he added.

According to the minister Ireland has already started on the path to rewetting and highlighted tdhat Bord na Móna had “switched from brown to green, Bord na Móna already restored and rewetted some 13,000/ha, we have another 20,000/ha ready to go in the next two to three years”.

The EPA Climate Change Conference 2023 in Dublin today examined the “data, evidence and emerging research” in the land use area in Ireland from a “scientific, policy and practical perspective”.

Minister Ryan told the conference, which attracted more than 900 participants in person and online, that a land use review set out in the Programme for Government “is halfway through”.

“We need to think big and long-term and holistically in an inter-connected way about how we are using our land and seas,” the minister continued.

“That land use review is half way through and we’ve competed the first phase and now we move into the second phase and we’ll need more science.

“This is a call to every scientist out there, every academic, every student, every person with an interest – this is a call to arms, we don’t really know in sufficient detail to what’s happening in our land, in the ecological situation, what’s happening in the water systems, the soil systems all the other natural systems, we need to deepen our knowledge, our understanding, of what’s happening,” Minister Ryan added.

He said the ‘I’m right – you’re wrong’ approach to climate challenges was not the way to go.

Minister Ryan said there needed to be a partnership approach to work out how to optimise the use of land in Ireland for a whole variety of “changes of benefits”.

The minister also believes there is a growing number of new opportunities for farmers from investing in forestry and new incomes from solar, anaerobic digestion projects which he said could all “support family farms”.