The Minister for Agriculture has said the sector will have “really ambitious targets” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, Charlie McConalogue said reports that farmers will face emissions cuts of 21 per cent under the Government’s forthcoming carbon budgets are “speculation”.
The minister was speaking at the launch of the Government’s common agricultural policy (CAP) strategy plan for 2023-2027, which will require farmers to participate in eco-schemes in order to get a share of the funding.
Speaking on Wednesday, the Minister said the agriculture sector would “play its part” in reducing emissions, and that this will partly be based on “stable herd numbers”.
He added: “We have to significantly reduce the emissions footprint of the food we produce, and that is a reflection of what’s going to have to happen across society in the time ahead.
“Every sector is going to have really ambitious targets and challenges in that regard and agriculture will play a role in relation to that.”
Green party TD and junior minister Pippa Hackett said it is hoped that new technologies will play a significant role in reducing agriculture emissions, but should those fail, reductions in herd size would have to be examined.
She said: “I suppose we’re going to have to. I’ve said before that we’re at the moment, we haven’t been able to the decouple agriculture from rising emissions.
“We have to try and stabilise those emissions, and then see the effects of any of our technologies on breeding programs, and so forth.
“Once we start to plateau those emissions, we’re better positioned to see how we can deliver.
“We ultimately have to start seeing those emissions plateauing. They have to start coming down, we all know that.”
Minister McConalogue also confirmed that farmers will have to participate in eco-schemes to avail themselves of 25 per cent of the funding available under pillar one of the CAP scheme.
He said: “Farmers do have to participate in them to avail of that. There are actions that are required to be delivered to draw down that funding.
“The objective is to keep compliance costs as low as possible, but to ensure that there’s an environmental outcome from the scheme and that that is verifiable.
“There is a significant change, obviously in pillar one, because when previously pillar two schemes delivered significantly from an environmental point of view, and had specific measures, pillar one up until now has been straightforward, direct payment to farmers, as a support for them producing food.
“The fact that 25 per cent is not going to be dedicated to this purpose, it has been changed, is a reflection of the higher environmental condition that is running through CAP this time.”
He said reports of a 21 per cent reduction target in agricultural emissions remain “speculation” at this point, adding: “In relation to our climate action targets, here hasn’t been anything announced or published by the Government in relation to that yet.
“That will be dealt with as part of the climate action plan.”
Today's #CAPreform announcement by Minister @McConalogue shows the Govt is not interested in supporting active farmers. The emphasis on reducing production will be very damaging for the sector overall, and for rural Ireland. https://t.co/3JIgcahlVH
— Irish Farmers' Association (@IFAmedia) October 20, 2021
Mr McConalogue also highlighted the need for farmers to maximise the value of the food they produce, but that it “remains to be decided” if that will mean the end of cheap food.
“I think certainly in relation to consumer attitudes, they are changing now.
“We’ve seen in recent years they’re changing massively, in terms of how people perceive the food they’re eating, they want to know where it comes from, they want to know what’s in it.
“And they want to have faith and confidence in what they’re eating.
“By continuing to develop that, we will deliver a situation where consumers continue to prefer Irish food, where we can continue to develop higher value markets, and bring that maximum profitability back to farmers.”
The CAP announcement was criticised by the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association Tim Cullinane.
He said: “The total emphasis is on rewarding farmers for reducing production.
“The Greens are clearly running the show, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael being led by the nose.
“The Minister's plan to allocate the maximum 25 per cent of every farmer’s basic payment to so-called ‘eco-schemes’ is bizarre, as the Minister himself fought to secure flexibility on this at EU level.”