‘There is no time for learning on the job’ – hill farmers on future minister

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is being called on to appoint a new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine “swiftly” and to give the job to someone with “an understanding of agriculture and the agri-food sector”.

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has said that “the fact that Irish farmers are now 60 says without a ‘functioning’ senior minister…is totally unacceptable in such crucial times”.

Colm O’Donnell, the association’s president, said: “The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, who has appointed himself as acting Minister for Agriculture, cannot in all fairness oversee everything.

He needs to make this appointment swiftly and he needs to give the position to someone with an understanding of agriculture and the agri-food sector. There is no time for learning on the job here.

“The Minister for Agriculture has a duty of care and responsibility to ensure all Irish farmers are represented at all stages, whether it’s securing commitments for funding during government pre-budget talks; Brexit negotiations; the CAP [Common Agriculture Policy] Strategic Plan; the Farm to Fork Strategy; the Biodiversity Strategy; and Council of Ministers summits, which are all happening right now.

“In the Programme for Government, a commitment was given to have a new food strategy for 2030 [a successor to Food Wise 2025] published within six months of government formation, providing an ambitious blueprint for the industry,” O’Donnell pointed out.

The INHFA president concluded: “The aim of this strategy is to add value and sustainability in the agri-food sector into the future by supporting family farms and employment in rural Ireland. All this ambition and still no functioning minister.”

Land designations

In other INHFA-related news, the farm group has also raised concerns over new land designations proposed under the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

New land designations will make farming “next to impossible”, the association has said.

Last May, the EU published its Biodiversity Strategy, outlining details to increase the level of Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA) designations.

The EU plans to have 30% of land in Europe designated as such, and 10% of land designated under a new ‘strictly protected’ category.

As a category ‘1a’ designation, ‘strictly protected’ carries the highest level of protection and, where applied, will make farming “next to impossible” according to the INHFA’s Brendan Joyce.