The publication of the Government’s Climate Action Plan comes at the same time as the EU Commission is pushing hard to complete a South American trade deal, writes IFA president
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) is extremely concerned that Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom is trying to finalise a deal this week, exploiting the political vacuum following the Parliament elections and before the next Commission is appointed.
It is completely contradictory to sign up to a deal that would bring in more carbon intensive beef from Brazil.
The letter, co-signed by our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the Commission President Jean Claude Juncker says that the Mercosur countries must comply with EU
environmental standards. They don’t, and both the Taoiseach and the EU Commission know this. They have the evidence.
It would be hugely hypocritical to impose further restrictions on Irish beef farming, which is four times more carbon efficient than beef from South America, and then agree to a Mercosur deal.
In view of the major Brexit implications overhanging the Irish and EU beef sector and the environmental degradation associated with Brazilian beef exports, it would be reckless to support a Mercosur deal.
How can the Commission ignore the fact that if Brexit happens, the UK could impose tariffs as high as €850m pa on Irish beef and possibly close off market access for more than 290,000 tonnes of our beef exports?
The EU Commission Joint Research Centre conducted an assessment on the cumulative impact of trade deals which showed that increased imports from Mercosur could cost the EU beef sector between €5bn and €7bn pa.
The EU FVO report of May 2017 highlighted that the Brazilian competent authority is not in a position to guarantee that the relevant export requirements are met.
Let’s look a little more closely at the Government’s Climate Action Plan.
The critical issue for farm families is that our low-carbon agri-food sector, which is Ireland’s largest indigenous sector, is fully recognised and not jeopardised by this climate plan. IFA has consistently argued that progress on the climate issue would require a coherent and focused approach from Government, led by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
We have also established a number of basic tenets that are needed to gain farmer support. Central to any plan has to be income sustainability. Far too often this is ignored by those putting forward alternative land use proposals.
IFA is adamant that any of the plans for agriculture have to be income-proofed. Unfortunately, we have had false dawns in the renewables area with miscanthus and willow.
This is the one element of the plan which contains the most exciting prospect for agriculture, and past mistakes must not be repeated.
If farmers produce an energy crop, then the Government must work with Bord na Mona and others to develop a supply chain to get the product to consumers.
By resolving grid access, streamlining planning and putting the proper price supports in place, microgeneration can be a real gamechanger. Farmers are ready and willing to generate their own electricity needs and to supply to the grid. But it has to be based on a viable tariff.
While the Teagasc roadmap can play its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the targets need focused policy actions. We need a committed, whole-of-government approach that puts the farmer at the centre.
It contains 27 measures that, if implemented, could make a real contribution to the Government’s efforts on climate action. And not just in our sector. Transport is responsible for the biggest jump in emissions since 1990.
The development of a renewables sector could help offset the use of fossil fuels in our national fleet.
On dairy farming, the removal of quotas in 2015 has released pent-up demand for expansion. While this has had an effect on emissions, it has also had a very positive impact for farm families and rural Ireland. We must not forget that we are the most carbon efficient country in Europe for dairy production. Any restrictions here would lead to an increase in production in less carbon-efficient regions.
On beef farming, suckler farming is our largest enterprise and it contributes hugely to the rural economy. Reducing the suckler herd would have huge consequences for the economic and social sustainability of rural Ireland.
The national cattle herd in Ireland is below where it was in the mid-90s and we have an extensive grass-based production system which is the envy of the world.
A deal for more Brazilian beef would run counter to everything that we do.