At 7:45p.m last night (August 12) I had what can only be described as a moment of ‘CAP epiphany’.

Three-quarters of an hour into the main ‘town hall’ presentation given by Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) officials on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plan, it dawned on me that the entire CAP project moving forward is built around a narrative that fundamentally discriminates against grassland agriculture.

Why else would we now be looking at a scenario which would see a limit placed on the number of suckler cows maintained in Ireland, for environmental reasons?

I don’t think that Brussels would actively set out to discriminate against Ireland, which leaves me to conclude that they don’t understand the capacity of Irish farmers to efficiently produce beef, milk and lamb from grazed grass.

Ireland’s unique grassland nature

Ireland is truly unique around the world in having this capacity. It is our greatest advantage which, if we are not careful, will be totally neutered on the back of the new CAP regime being implemented in its current form.

I am also forced to conclude that members of ‘Team Ireland’ have dropped the baton big time in not communicating effectively and efficiently, the critically important role that grass plays at the very heart of Irish agriculture.

Three of the nine pillars contained within the new CAP measures overtly refer to the mitigation of climate change pressures, and the need to improve the environmental standards achieved across agriculture as a whole.

I fully support all of these principles. However, given this context, it is a shocking omission on the part of Brussels that little or no formal recognition is given to the fact that grassland farming is already contributing so much to the environment of this country.

CAP and the suckler sector

When I think of suckler beef production today, my mind immediately turns to the fantastic commitment that livestock farmers make to the protection of our rural landscapes – a direct consequence of the grazing practices that have been followed throughout Ireland for generations.

If I had my way, I would be actively supporting Irish suckler farmers, not discriminating against them.

It’s obvious that Brussels buys into the ‘so called’ principle that grassland farming is inherently inefficient.

Again, this reflects so badly on the ambassadors from Ireland who should have been putting the bureaucrats and number crunchers within the European Commission right, in terms of what is actually happening in this country.

Another obvious flaw in the new CAP deal is its lack of ambition in terms of delivering for production agriculture.

Back in the day, Minister Simon Coveney talked about the benefits associated with ‘sustainable intensification’ that could be secured through CAP reform for Ireland’s farming sectors.

I see nothing of this thinking apparent within the latest CAP deal, which begs the question – what is the scope for Ireland to increase the scale of its agricultural output over the next seven years?

Perhaps agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue might wish to address this issue directly, the next time he gets to his feet in the Dáil.