A Green Party representative has said the political group “would like to see a very significant increase in organic farming where artificial inputs are not used”.
Deputy Brian Leddin, Limerick City, spoke during a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine meeting on the cost and supply of fertiliser in the European Union.
Mr. Fabien Santini, deputy head of unit at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, DG AGRI, attended the meeting.
Increase in organic farming
During the session, Leddin said he wished to “broaden the issue” and asked, “why are we so dependent on this fertiliser?”
He went on to say that he believes Ireland needs to embrace organics to a “greater extent than we currently have”.
According to the deputy, approximately 2% of farms are organic, and the government aims to increase this to 7.5% by 2027. He said that other countries are “quite ahead” of Ireland in this regard.
“We had a session in this committee in the past few months, and most members of this committee would agree that we probably can and should be going much further in organic.”
“The Austrians and Danes are doing quite well. I see no reason why we cannot do as well as them,” he said.
“The reality is that these artificial fertilisers are having a devastating effect locally on watercourses,” he claimed.
He pointed to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which shows that approximately 43% of rivers (from 2017-2020) were of moderate, poor or bad quality.
“There is a correlation with the use of artificial fertilisers,” the deputy claimed.
He claimed that there is a climate impact as well. “There is the climate impact because there is the nitrous oxide, which is 200 or 300 times more potent as a gas than carbon dioxide.”
“When the fertiliser oxidises, this gas is produced, and it is very harmful. In addition, using these inputs allows us to grow more grass and have higher stocking rates in our farms.”
“That has a knock-on increase on the methane that we produce. All in all, it seems to make sense to drive the organic angle as much as we can for environmental reasons and to protect farmers as well from this significant volatility they are experiencing at the moment.”
Fertiliser use and switching to organics
During the session, the TD also said the CAP strategic plan is “very significant”.
He believes that “we should be using the CAP strategic plan to drive the organic farming agenda in Ireland”.
Furthermore, he acknowledged that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is developing a fertiliser alternatives strategy.
“We will try to go from 410,000 tonnes in 2018 down to less than 325,000 tonnes. That is about a 33% decrease in artificial fertiliser within the decade.”
“Farmers cannot switch to organics overnight. I accept that it is not easy. However, it makes sense in the longer term. Some farmers are going down that road and are managing to eliminate significant input costs.”
“They are producing as much food as they were beforehand but with reduced labour costs. There will also be an expected improvement in the local environment,” he added.