With a 25% cut to emissions now formally expected of the agricultural sector by 2030, farm groups have reacted with dismay.
It had been hoped that a figure would be agreed by Government leaders ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning, however, that decision had been further delayed.
The Climate Action Plan 2021 sets out an emissions reduction range for the agriculture sector of between 22% to 30% by 2030.
President of the Irish Farmers’ Association Tim Cullinan has described the sectoral emissions ceiling for agriculture as a “potentially devastating blow for Irish farming and the rural economy”.
The IFA said that this deal “is all about the survival of the Government rather than the survival of rural Ireland”.
“The Government has agreed to a target without any pathway to get there or any budget to assist farmers in reducing emissions,” Mr Cullinan said.
“They have no idea of the economic and social impact of today’s decision on the farming sector or rural Ireland. Farmers across the country will be rightly worried about what this means for their future.
“The implementation plan to achieve the target will be vital.
“I want to make it clear that any attempt to undermine farmers’ livelihoods or the viability of the sector, in order to achieve these targets, will be opposed vigorously by the IFA.”
Mr Cullinan stressed that the Government will have to come forward “with real proposals and proper funding” to support climate measures, including on-farm renewable energy, and “ensure that farmers get full credit for this”.
“We are still strongly of the view that the Government has not complied with the requirements in the Climate Act in relation to carbon leakage and the distinct characteristics of biogenic methane. These will have to be taken on board by the Government,” Mr Cullinan said.
One of the sectors most under the spotlight is the dairy industry.
However, speaking to theDairy Industry Ireland director Conor Mulvihill said while the targets set for agriculture and Industry are “hugely challenging”, the organization welcomes clarity,
“We will actively work with our suppliers and staff in our processing facilities to achieve metric-based improvements,” he said.
“We call on government to give appropriate supports to enable us to positively achieve these targets and protect the social and economic sustainability of rural Ireland.”
The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association has said that the Government’s decision would have “wholly negative and predictable economic, social and demographic consequences for the massive areas of the state that depend on farming”.
Pat McCormack, president of the ICMSA, described the 25% target as “a sell-out” of Ireland’s family farm model.
Mr McCormack said that farmers and the communities they formed and which depended upon them, “were not interested in hearing any more platitudes from politicians and groups who professed to appreciate the dilemma faced by farming communities but who cheerfully signed-off on policy that ‘at a stroke’ made whole classes of farms unviable”.
He said that politicians “were happy to sacrifice the one sector in which Ireland enjoyed a unique natural benefit, global reputation, and which had been the one and only economic sector left working after the crash of a decade ago”.
Mr McCormack said that the decision to go past 22% to 25% represented “much more than ‘just’ an additional 3%”.
“The original target was going to be very difficult but at least warranted an effort,” he said.
He said that if the sector is to move towards a low-emissions model, “then the ambitions and targets must be possible and achievable”.
“If the historic process and transition is to win the confidence that will be necessary for it to succeed, then it simply must be realistic,” Mr McCormack added.
“If it is not realistic – and 25% is not realistic – then the whole process loses all momentum, trust and confidence.”
He added that Government has “badly let down family farms and their communities”.
“We won’t be fobbed off by vague promises of future income streams,” he said.
“Our livestock industry – both dairy and beef – is the lifeblood of rural Ireland and Minister McConalogue and the three party leaders of the coalition have struck it at its very heart today.”
Dermot Kelleher, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association added that Government “must now insist on a complete blanket ban at EU level on meat imports from outside the EU, given the incredible stress farmers have been put under in recent weeks”.
“Farmers have been made to feel that the high quality, high protein, nutritious food they supply to European markets is now something to be ashamed of,” Mr Kelleher said.
“It would now be hypocrisy on a grandiose scale if farmers are forced to watch beef, chicken, and dairy from all over the world being shipped into the EU on favorable terms while Irish farmers are faced with cuts.”
Mr Kelleher said that while farmers are “willing to do everything they can” to improve sustainability and reduce emissions, the Government will “have to step up to the plate and deliver on the financial support that farmers need to implement existing and soon-to- be available technologies”.
“Moreover, money will have to be front-loaded into research on carbon storage in soil, trees, and hedgerows with a view to farmers being able to either offset emissions like other sectors or to sell carbon credits,” he said.
“Farmers are already innovating in terms of being more sustainable with a lot of focus on manure management, improved genetics, and reduced fertilizer and energy use. A lot will depend on a viable price being paid to beef farmers to finish cattle earlier because this costs money.
“Nonetheless, farmers have always adapted, and we know that farmers will do their best to achieve ever-greater results on producing the best, most nutritious and sustainable food in the world.”
Agri environment advisor and farmer Thomas Duffy said more detail was needed on the specifics of how the additional reduction will be achieved.
“25% will be extremely challenging,” he said. “Firstly, we will need to see 100% adoption of the Teagasc MACC [Marginal Abatement Cost Curve] – including protected urea, clovers and improved breeding. But there will be that will need to be made up between what the MACC can achieve and 25%.
“We will need to see clear plans and strong actions and supports for farmers to achieve alternative income on-farm. Vague remarks about diversification will no longer do.”