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Opinion: Farming sustainability is not a zero-sum game

MEP, Luke Ming-Flanagan discusses the COP and the CAP.

The COP and the CAP are two intertwined issues with far-reaching implications for Irish agriculture.

Our Taoiseach, Mr Martin, is in Edinburgh at the COP making all the right noises in respect of our need to curb emissions and combat deforestation.

In implementing CAP, Minister McConalouge must match the rhetoric and fine words with actions.

Currently, in the national discussions on the CAP reform, there is a focus on the new concept of eco-schemes in Pillar l. Many are pushing for a minimalist application of these.

Giving in to these demands would not be in the long-term interest of agriculture.

We put ourselves forward as a food island, trading on our green image and priding ourselves on our high quality produce.

To ensure that there is credibility to these claims, actions must back-up words.

Eco-schemes

It is important to note that the 25% allocation to the eco-schemes is a minimum. There are some caveats that a member state must reach over the programming period.

Member states are free to deliver a higher rate if they wish.

Ireland should not be constrained by this minimal target. It must be willing to go above this and use it as an opportunity to demonstrate that we are willing to go the extra mile to deliver on environmental goals, which can then be used as a marketing advantage.

We should embrace this new concept and make it work for Irish farmers. This involves both sides of the equation.

On one side, that minister must allocate adequate funds to the eco-schemes to ensure the farmers are properly remunerated for actions that are required of them.

Also, it is critical that these schemes are structured in such a manner that beneficiaries do not incur costs in complying with them.

On the other side of the equation, farmers themselves must begin to think differently.

Sustainability

Farming sustainability is not a zero-sum game, where environmental action comes at a cost to the farmer.

Many basic agronomic practices such as increasing clover content in grassland swards or incorporating Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in arable farming can add to farm profitability while delivering on environmental goals.

An honest discussion must be had on the direction of Irish agriculture to align the ideals of the COP and the CAP’s targets.

Furthermore, Ireland’s grass-based agriculture can stand up to scrutiny across a range of environmental metrics.

While there is much discussion on dairying versus beef farming, either can work in a grass-based system.

However, neither are sustainable if they are dependent on sucking in concentrates from outside the country and are reliant on applying high levels of artificial fertiliser, which itself is hugely energy-hungry to produce.

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