Climate change could see farm exodus, according to poll

More than one-in-five farmers have said the impact of climate change could lead them to quitting the farm.

Climate change could see farm exodus, according to poll

More than one-in-five farmers have said the impact of climate change could lead them to quitting the farm.

Remarkably, 27% of respondents said they do not believe in climate change, with this minority view strongest among younger farmers.

There has also been a fall in the number of farmers who believe the Government is doing enough to combat climate change and a fall in the number of people who believe agriculture contributes negatively.

Some parts of the country have been hit by severe fodder crises in recent years, not least as a result of the appalling winter weather of the past year, bookended by Hurricane Ophelia and Storm Emma’s plummeting temperatures.

The severe weather extended into the summer drought and a hosepipe ban, with farmers again fearing that a lack of growth would impact fodder stores for the winter ahead.

Asked in the Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll if climate change may lead them to leave farming altogether, 22% agreed (6% strongly agreed) — a significant minority, even if 61% of respondents disagreed, including 44% who strongly disagreed.

Younger farmers were more likely to see climate change as a factor in their possible future departure from farming, with 30% of those under 35 years and 28% of those aged 35 to 44 in agreement.

Tillage and dairy farmers were also more likely to share that view compared with those working in other agricultural sectors, as were those with the smallest land holdings.

Another fodder crisis is not far from the minds of farmers — 77% of respondents in the poll agreed that ‘there needs to be Government investment in irrigation and fodder to ensure better readiness for severe weather’.

That opinion is strongest among those under 35 (84%) and while it then tails off up through the age groups, 70% of those aged 65 and over also agree.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, calls for more Government action to head off a fodder crisis is also strongest among those with larger land holdings, peaking at 92% of those with farms of 120 acres or more. Tillage farmers are also more likely to hold this view than their counterparts in dairy, livestock, and other types of farming.

While 38% of respondents believe the Government is doing enough to tackle climate change, this is a fall from the 52% of respondents who felt the same way a year ago.

By contrast, 48% of respondents this year disagree that the Government’s efforts have been sufficient, a rise of 18% compared to last year’s findings.

Kevin Hanrahan, head of Teagasc’s Rural Economy and Development Programme, said: “There is an obvious challenge/disconnect to be addressed. Agriculture accounts for a very large part of Ireland’s GHG emissions; to get farmers to farm in ways that are more climate-friendly is going to be very hard if large proportions of farmers are unconvinced that there is a problem.

Paul Deane, of the Environmental Research Institute at UCC and research fellow at the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy, said agriculture represents a different challenge for climate action.

“The sector has to look at options outside of livestock such as forestry or using land to grow energy crops to reduce emissions.”

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