‘We must take responsibility and stand over our environmental credentials’

Calls for additional supports and incentives to the Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) Equipment Scheme under TAMS II were made during the recently held Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Water Event 2019 in Galway.

The conference, which focused on water quality and how – as a country – we can move “from knowledge to action” on the matter, also heard that while farmers need to become more efficient in the way they work, the custodians of Ireland’s land also need appropriate financial supports and help to tackle climate change effectively.

On the day, Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) environment chairman and member of the Water Forum Thomas Cooney called for the supports after Jack Nolan, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, pointed out to those present that the Nitrates Derogation Review was a “very necessary” step towards behavioural change to climate action in this country.

What we need to change farmers’ mindset is a sustainability support package. Farmers need further incentives under LESS – perhaps the removal of VAT off low-emissions equipment.

He continued: “We need incentives for lime – we have talked about the nitrogen use efficiency – under 60% of Irish soil has the correct pH.

“Back in the 1980s and during the 1990s when we had the Rural Environmental Production Scheme (REPS) there were incentives and supports for the use of lime.”

‘Better and smarter’

Meanwhile, Nolan warned of the dangers of depending on governmental supports to incentivise farmers.

“The reason we are having the derogation review this year is because the department wants action. We want measures to be put onto farms that are going to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment and still let farmers farm,” he continued.

We want farmers to farm the landscape that we have; we need to get smarter in what we are asking farmers to do.

“We are brilliant in this country at planting hedges so, for example, we need to ask farmers to manage the hedges, cut the trees later, etc.”

Nolan went on to say that from the European Commission’s point of view the derogation review was a positive step in the right direction.

“From a commission point of view the derogation is positive because it provides more leverage; there is also a higher level of compliance with farmers in derogation than there is with farmers who aren’t,” he added.

‘Standing together’

During the event, the department official said the time had come to create a vision for the future of Ireland’s environment – one whereby credentials could be accepted by farmers.

There isn’t a future for agriculture in Ireland unless we can stand over our environmental credentials.

“That means industry, Bord Bia, Teagasc and policy makers must join forces and show farmers what the vision for the future is,” Nolan advised.

Responding to Cooney’s calls, Nolan then indicated that the money may not be “in the pot” for such requests.

‘Taking responsibility’

The department’s official pointed to the “limited pot” of funding in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) budget.

“There is a limited pot in the CAP; so if money goes towards the supports that you have suggested then it takes the money away from something else,” he continued.

“I think that farmers have a responsibility to themselves in all of this. For example, if a farmer uses lime he must be able to look and understand that he is using a soil conditioner and that it should be normal practice to use it without a subsidy from the Government.”

Nolan pointed out that farmers, industry and consumers “needed to take collective responsibility” with regard to the environment.

“The issues are not going to be solved through subsidies or incentives. Responsibility is part of the solution going forward and farmers themselves have to make the decision to change,” he continued.

“We will have derogation for the next two years but after that we do not know what will happen; as a country we will have to go back to the European Commission and they will say to us – what is happening with water? What is happening with habitats? What’s happening with regard to ammonia?

“And, if we can’t show to the commission that yes, while the trends are bad on a national level, we are taking action to reverse it; slow it down; stop it; then derogation is going to be under threat.”