‘Heroic’ farmers praised for keeping food supplies going during pandemic
The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, has commended the “heroic efforts” by farmers in keeping food supply chains open during the pandemic.
The Government will continue to support primary producers and agri-food and drink manufacturers as they trade through continued uncertainty this year, he told the agm of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) , which was held remotely on Thursday.
The IFA’s president, Tim Cullinan, said that under proposals for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap), farmers are facing a cut of up to 30 per cent in their basic payment in 2023, in order to fund “so-called” eco schemes.
Decisions due on Cap this year will define farming for the next decade, he said, but the EU Commission has refused to carry out an impact assessment of these strategies. “They know they will have a devastating effect on farmers.”
IFA deputy president Brian Rushe said farmers were being asked to “do more for less” in relation to climate change and Cap, and questioned whether this was likely to succeed.
Saying “I hear you loud and clear”, the Taoiseach said the Government would do the best it could in the negotiations on Cap and climate change to create rewards for farmers who introduced practices that contributed to the EU’s and Ireland’s goals on climate change.
Martin Heydon, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, told the meeting he would like to see the debate in Europe broaden to include the price being paid for food.
The “cheap food” environment that existed was a “huge challenge”, and the consumer was not challenged enough about the cost of producing quality food, he said.
Asked about labour shortages in the farming sector, Mr Heydon said employment legislation is being worked on that will include a new seasonal employment permit.
On the EU-Mercosur agreement on trade with South America, Mr Martin said the tariff quota for beef was greater than the Government would have liked, but there were opportunities in the agreement, particularly for the dairy and beverages sectors.
“Discussions are currently ongoing between the commission and Mercosur to ensure that the provisions on deforestation and sustainability within the agreement are both achievable and verifiable,” said the Taoiseach.
“Reports that we have all seen about deforestation in Brazil are of particular concern.”
No sector of the Irish economy is more directly exposed to the practical impacts of climate change as our farmers and those working in the fishing industry, which can already be seen in weather patterns, he said.
“Farmers have a critical role to play with regard to increased afforestation and carbon sequestration in the time ahead.”
Mr Cullinan said the delays in the issuing of forestry licences was a “car crash situation”, while the chair of the IFA forestry committee, Vincent Nally, said it was “unacceptable” that farmers could not currently harvest and sell their product because of the delays.
The approximately 2,000 hectares of forestry planted last year was “an all-time low”, he said, and compared with an aspiration in the Programme for Government of 8,000 hectares, and the 16,000 that would be needed if Ireland was to reach its carbon neutrality target.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, said no one was underestimating the challenges that delays in the licencing process were creating for farmers who wanted to plant, thin or harvest trees.
Forestry licences had to be in line with environmental legislation, but the slowness in the licencing process is currently being looked at, and additional resources were being directed to the area, the Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett, said.