An “honest discussion must be had” on the direction of Irish agriculture “if the ideals of the COP and the targets of the CAP are to be aligned”.

COP (COP26, the United Nations’ Summit on climate change) and CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) are “two intertwined issues with far-reaching implications” for Irish agriculture, MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan said.

While Taoiseach Micheál Martin is in Glasgow at COP26 “making all the right noises in respect of our need to curb emissions and to combat deforestation”, in the implementation of CAP, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue “must match the rhetoric and fine words with actions”.

“Currently in the national discussions on the CAP reform there is a focus on the new concept of eco-schemes in Pillar I with many pushing for a minimalist application of these. 

“Giving in to these demands would not be in the long-term interest of agriculture,” Flanagan argued.

“We put ourselves forward as a food island, trading on our green image and pride ourselves on our high quality produce. 

“To ensure that there is credibility to these claims, words must be backed up by actions.”

Flanagan said that it is “important to note that the 25% allocation to the eco-schemes is a minimum, with some caveats, that a member state must reach over the programming period”.

“Member states are free to deliver a higher rate if they wish,” he continued.

“Ireland should not be constrained by this minimal target, but be willing to go above this and use it as an opportunity to demonstrate that we are willing to go the extra mile to deliver on environmental goals, that can then be used as a marketing advantage.”

Both sides of the equation

Flanagan feels that “we should embrace this new concept”, and “make it work for Irish farmers”.

“This involves both sides of the equation,” he continued.

“On one side, the minister must allocate adequate funds to the eco-schemes to ensure the farmers are properly remunerated for actions that are required of them. It is also critical that these schemes are structured in such a manner that beneficiaries do not incur costs in complying with them. 

“On the other side of the equation, farmers themselves must begin to think differently. Farming sustainability is not a zero-sum game, where environmental action comes at a cost to the farmer. 

“Many basic agronomic practices such as increasing clover content in grassland swards or incorporating integrated pest management in arable farming can add to farm profitability while delivering on environmental goals.”

Align COP and CAP

Flanagan said that an “honest discussion” needs to take place to align COP ideals with CAP targets.

“Ireland’s grass-based agriculture can stand up to scrutiny across a range of environmental metrics,” he added.

“While there is much discussion on dairying versus beef farming, either can work in a grass-based system.

“However, neither are sustainable if they are dependent on sucking in concentrates from outside the country and are reliant on the application of high levels of artificial fertiliser, which itself is hugely energy hungry to produce.”