Yesterday (November 4), the government published its Climate Action Plan which confirmed that the agriculture sector will have to cut its greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions by between 22% and 30% by the end of this decade.

It was reported a number of weeks ago that this range for agriculture would be between 21% and 30%. This has been altered slightly in the finalised report, to between 22% and 30% by 2030.

A specific target remains to be set, but this will be a matter for the Oireachtas to debate and decide. Agriland understands that this may take up to four months.

So how have farmer representative organisations reacted to the Climate Action Plan?

IFA – ‘extremely challenging’

IFA president Tim Cullinan Climate Action Plan
IFA president, Tim Cullinan

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president, Tim Cullinan, said the emissions ceiling for agriculture announced by the government will be “extremely challenging” and could have a profound impact on the rural economy. 

“The government has fixed these targets without any proper assessment of the implications for individual farmers, the rural economy or food production,” he said.

“Teagasc data shows that only a third of Irish farmers are economically viable. With rising energy and transport costs, the economic viability of farms and rural businesses are being undermined.

“Farmers cannot do more for the environment and invest in emissions mitigation measures when their incomes are under such pressure,” Cullinan said.

Tim Cullinan said we cannot approach climate policy with a “silo mentality” adding that carbon leakage, food security and farmers’ livelihoods must be fully integrated into the plan.

“The government must now engage in meaningful negotiation with elected farmer leaders to make a plan for the sector that can contribute to emissions reduction, but which does not impact on farmers’ livelihoods,” he continued.

The IFA said that proper funding must be in place to help farmers implement measures from the Climate Action Plan.

“The frustration for farmers is that they know that if less food is produced in Ireland, it will be produced elsewhere, with a higher carbon footprint,” he said.

“The world’s population is growing and will likely increase from 7.5 billion today to 10 billion by 2050. More food will be needed, not less,” Cullinan added.

The IFA has called on all farm families to descend Dublin on Sunday, November 21 to send a strong message to the government that “a proper plan” needs to be put in place for the sector at farm level, which addresses economic, social and environmental sustainability. 

ICMSA – ‘farmers won’t be made fools of’

McCormack, loans, CAP Climate Action Plan
President of ICMSA, Pat McCormack

The president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), Pat McCormack, said that farmers will constructively engage with the Climate Action Plan, but he warned that “farmers will not be made fools of”.

He added that the government needs to show “due respect” to the farming and rural communities.  

McCormack said that farmers and rural communities are “perfectly entitled to feel that they had been singled out by the media and some vested interests” and made to ‘carry the carbon can’ while other sectors escaped any regulation or media attention. 

“Farmers will engage constructively – as they always do – but farmers will not allow themselves or their communities to be undermined by additional costs, while the same people urging restrictions on Irish farmers, lobby for trade deals with countries that have no intention of addressing climate change,” McCormack said.

“The level of ignorance displayed by many in the national media and ‘activists’ about farming has been profoundly shocking, and what is especially infuriating is the knowledge that, yet again, other sectors seem to escape any similar levels of scrutiny or analysis.”

McCormack said that Ireland is to dairy and beef what California is to tech.

He said that Ireland was not just “potentially damaging ourselves nationally for no good reason, but we are actually limiting ourselves in the single area in which we could have helped deal with a global problem”.  

ICSA – ‘enforcing cuts just won’t cut it’

CAP Climate Action Plan
Dermot Kelleher, ICSA president Image: Donal O’Leary

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) president, Dermot Kelleher, has described the sectoral emissions reduction targets for agriculture as “incredibly challenging, and they carry a significant risk of doing serious damage to the economy outside of Dublin”.

“We must get the balance right between our vital national interests and our obligations on climate change.

“Farmers are willing to play their part in the climate change challenge. But we need balance in this strategy. Ireland should strive to move in line with its EU partners, not faster and not slower.

“We also need to do what every other country is doing which is to have equal regard to its own vital national interests,” he added.

The ICSA president has pointed out that for rural Ireland, agriculture is a vital national interest, and the target of up to 30% reduction in emissions “potentially means about a €3.8 billion hit for the rural economy”.

The ICSA argues that this is because the technology as it stands at present will not be sufficient and that implies cuts to the national herd.

“If every farmer in the country takes up the current technologies on manure, fertiliser, and potentially feed additives, we might get to 18%, but this will be a very big ask given that for many of these farmers, this will imply a significant cost that won’t be recovered either in efficiencies or in the marketplace,” Kelleher continued.

“If we cut the national herd to outsource the emissions to other countries such as Brazil, we are effectively opting for a lose/lose policy where we undermine our own agricultural sector but actually do nothing to decrease global emissions. 

“The danger is, that if we try to enforce lose/lose policies, we are simply undermining the credibility of climate action. We therefore have to look at better and quicker engagement with the farming sector and the wider industry to see where we can find win/win policies,” he continued. 

While the ICSA admitted that there are some references to doing more with renewable energy plans in the fields of biofuels and biogas, the association claimed that the government and the EU has “prevaricated” far too much on renewables. 

“Up to now, the lack of ambition on solar energy, anaerobic digesters for renewable gas and the ongoing EU confusion over biofuels, all demonstrate a lack of real ambition to deliver positive climate outcomes that can also benefit farmers and rural communities,” Kelleher continued.

“It is absolutely pointless to talk about ‘Just Transition’ or even to set up a ‘Just Transition’ commission, when the fact is that there has been no real engagement about how farmers can benefit from doing things differently or better.

“Enforcing cuts and driving people out of business just won’t cut it. There has been no just transition for the peat sector, but we are now importing peat from eastern Europe.

“There are things that can be done to reduce emissions from the national herd such as finishing cattle earlier. But the ICSA proposal to use CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] funds to support farmers who deliver on this has so far been ignored by government,” Kelleher concluded.

Macra – ‘nothing to address generational renewal’

Macra president John Keane speaking about national reserve Finance
Macra na Feirme president, John Keane

Macra na Feirme president, John Keane, has condemned the Climate Action Plan claiming that not a single action addresses the issue of generational renewal.

“Not once in the almost 60 actions, are young farmers mentioned. Our future in the sector is being decided at the moment, and there is not one single action contained to address the barriers we meet in the sector,” Keane said.

“Young people and youth are mentioned several times through the document, but not under the agriculture heading.

“Macra na Feirme has consistently articulated that young farmers are essential to mitigation of climate change, and yet they are excluded from the plan when it comes to agriculture.

Keane has highlighted that it is the young farmers of today who will be involved in farming over the next decade, and beyond that will have their lives and livelihoods affected by changes in policy and the environment.

He said that the current generation and future generations of young farmers see the positive role they can play in protecting local environment and playing their part in climate change.

“What has been published today has no direct action for our Irish young farmers. Young farmers who are highly educated, who want to be drivers of environmental change and progress,” Keane continued.

“Over the past five years, in excess of €200 million has been invested by Irish young farmers, on farm improvements which included numerous climate mitigation measures. Young farmers have demonstrated their commitment to addressing climate change with action.

“No clear action is detailed to allow young people enter the sector over the next decade to address and deal with the climate targets as laid out.

“We have heard as recent as this week the Taoiseach speak about a sustainable future for young farmers in the sector, but once again talk is cheap, and actions are once more failing in securing a future in Irish farming for young people,” Keane concluded.