“Slowly and quietly, a sector that underpins many rural counties along the west coast and elsewhere is fading.”
That was the stark warning Independent TD, Marian Harkin, issued during a Dáil debate on the Climate Action Plan 2021 last week.
On the back of this, the deputy believes “we need an honest, robust debate about the future of our suckler herd”.
“In the next CAP, the target for sucklers is 385,000. The kicker is that just 20,000 farmers take part in the Beef Data and Genomics Programme.”
“Nobody is talking about this or taking the bull by the horns. Platitudes are useless,” she added.
“The debate around the national herd is fraught. It is crucial to point out that suckler herd numbers are decreasing year-on-year.”
She pointed to a recent KPMG report that showed that if agricultural emissions are to fall by 30%, then farm profitability will also fall by the same percentage.
She asked if there is a just transition for the agricultural sector. “If the Climate Action Plan is to work, and we want it to work, then we must engage with rural communities.”
Climate change and plan
Harkin told the Dáil that climate change and how we deal with it are our generation’s “defining” issue.
She said the issue would impact forever, at least in human terms, on future generations.
“While we recognise and accept individual responsibility, as we must, we must also look to our government to put systems and structures in place to facilitate us as citizens to play our role, not to absolve us from responsibility but to facilitate our engagement as mothers and grandmothers of the generations to come.”
She stated that the Climate Action Plan “promises much but delivery is still very much in question”.
“We need clarity on how we can play our part. One of the issues that really concerns me in all of this is the narrative of urban versus rural.”
The deputy said in terms of context, Ireland did not have an industrial revolution.
Therefore, she added, agricultural production, which sustains much of rural Ireland, makes a “proportionately higher contribution” to greenhouse gas emissions than in most other countries.
“We also conveniently forget that Harvest 2020, stated government policy, promoted higher levels of production and, consequently, a significant increase in the national herd. All of this finger-pointing is getting us nowhere.”
“Too many people, especially in rural Ireland, feel left out, not of the debate which they are right in the middle of, but of shaping the solutions and of playing a meaningful, positive and realistic role in mitigating climate change.”
Sustainable food production.
She said that role includes sustainable food production.
Furthermore, she said Ireland and the EU need to look again at the Mercosur agreement and its implications.
“The role also includes payment for carbon farming. The most crucial aspect involves individuals and communities coming to the fore in areas.”
“For example, microgeneration projects rather than the huge, towering wind turbines planned for places like Croagh and Dough Mountain in County Leitrim.”
“I refer to projects involving solar panels and small turbines because that is where we get community support, community buy-in and positive outcomes.”
She believes Ireland needs to see agroforestry that:
- Sequesters carbon;
- Provides income;
- Protects biodiversity;
- Provides areas where people, animals and plans can interact in positive ways.
Harkin believes this must be the case “instead of the community-destroying Sitka spruce we have marching across the landscape”.