Organic farms increasingly viable - We should all work as one on climate

Organic farms increasingly viable - We should all work as one on climate

As weekend events underlined, Brexit is an emotional exercise rather than a political one. As in many divorces, negative emotion has become the dominant energy.

Otherwise sensible people become polarised. The compromise needed to reach a resolution becomes difficult, sometimes impossible.

Though the debate around climate collapse is not yet as polarised as the poisonous Brexit discourse, there remains a vocal, probably disproportionately so, minority who deny the process and resist the measures to try to, even at this 11th hour, confront reality.

This denial persists despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in August.

Produced by 107 scientists from 52 countries, it confirmed it is no longer safe to deny climate change. That report focused on farming and land use and the impact those essential processes have on emissions and rising temperatures.

When he spoke on Ireland’s evolving agricultural strategy to 2030, the successor to Food Wise 2025, last week Agriculture Minister Michael Creed addressed the same issues. He warned there is a risk of “push-back” from farmers if they are “told what they must do” rather than being listened to.

It is natural for a politician to tailor a speech to a specific audience and Mr Creed’s general point was entirely fair.

However, he might have served his audience, and the rest of society too, better with a more forthright assessment. He did though, inadvertently, hit the nail on the head.

“Everybody... is telling farmers what they should do... almost 450m consumers across the EU have an opinion on how farmers should conduct their businesses,” he argued.

And why wouldn’t they?

After all, they — we — face huge disruption because of the impact of farming and other industries. Mr Creed might also remind himself of the source of the subsidies sustaining farming — the 450m consumers who dare to have an opinion. That support will become ever more conditional and to pretend otherwise do farmers no favours.

Mr Creed’s cheerleading can only lead to conflict between farmers and society even though an increasing number of farmers are modifying their behaviour. This is to be encouraged.

It is in Holland where government has decided, to protect water security, to pay farmers to stop working their land. The Dutch are also cutting the national herd to cut pollution.

Those measures are not in prospect in Ireland, yet at least. Mr Creed insists that “the sector can meet its climate action targets without reducing the national beef herd — but only if there is buy-in from every beef

farmer”.

One of those measures, one among many, might be a move to organic farming.

Some intensive farmers might dismiss that idea but today we report on the growing number of farmers who have successfully made the switch.

Just as great changes in how we travel and heat our homes are unavoidable, great change is inevitable in food production.

The design of the successor to Food Wise 2025 seems a perfect opportunity to make this a collective effort rather than one that, like Brexit, divides the country.

It would turn the greatest challenge facing us all into a common purpose and make a positive outcome all the more likely.

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