‘We have to look at alternative activities for farming’ – FF leader

The country should be “looking critically” at agriculture and searching for alternative economic activities for farming, according to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

Martin – speaking to Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 today, Tuesday, June 18 – was responding to the release yesterday of the Government’s Climate Action Plan, which has set out many far-reaching social and economic policy changes, including for agriculture.

“We do have to critically look at the agricultural area, in the sense of just transitions, but also in the sense of alternative, viable, economic activity for farming,” Martin argued.

For example, you take the beef farming sector. We all know a large degree of that at the moment, for many beef farmers, isn’t viable, and hasn’t been viable for quite some time in terms of the income they’re generating.

“I think we should be providing alternative, contractual arrangements for farmers to get higher incomes – and it could be across a whole range of activities, from the bio economy, right through to afforestation and so on – and incentivising more,” Martin called for.

He also suggested that a reduction or limit in the size of the national herd would be necessary.

Responding to a question from O’Rourke on whether or not that should be considered, Martin said: “Some people would say there’s an over supply of calves on the market at the moment, because of the huge dairy expansion.

We do have to critically look at our farming, and every sector has a role to play.

During the interview, Martin also said that farmers “must become biodiversity protectors in the future”.

He went on to argue that some state agencies, including Bord Bia, Coillte and Bord na Mòna, required a change of direction.

“You fundamentally need to change the mandate of many state agencies. So Bord Bia, Coillte: We need to change their mandate; their mandate now has to be a climate change mandate,” said the Fianna Fáil leader.

Coillte needs not to be just a commercial mandate anymore. They have to grow more native species and develop afforestation in a much more biodiversity-proof way then they have been in the past. They are making progress in some respects.

“Likewise with Bord na Móna, in terms of our bogs,” added Martin.

He stressed that: “This is a seismic shift if we’re honest with people. It means big changes. If you have to bring people with you so it doesn’t become a shock to people when certain things begin to happen.”