“I don’t know a single farmer who isn’t interested in the nature on their farms and in passing the land on in better condition to the next generation,” said ICSA Dermot Kelleher in the aftermath of the European Parliament Environment Committee votes on the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law yesterday (Thursday 15 June). “However, the impasse we are now at is a direct consequence of top down dictat and a complete lack of engagement with the very people who are expected to implement this law. Moreover, instead of an honest engagement with the concerns of farmers who see their livelihoods under threat from the constant attack by the extreme ends of the environmental lobby, there was a dismissive, arrogant and contemptuous attitude.”
“This must be seen against the backdrop of what farmers have had to endure over the past few years. Consider the following points:
- Dutch farmers being forced out of farming – but even where they agree to sell their land, they are confronted with the entirely unnecessary and vindictive condition that they will never, ever be allowed to farm anywhere else in any part of the EU.
- A framing of the Climate narrative in Ireland that spends the vast majority of the time suggesting that agriculture is the main cause of global warming when this is patently not true in the case of Ireland, and not even remotely accurate in terms of a European or global framework.
- After a year spent at Food Vision meetings, farmers still have no idea of what it is that the Government wants them to do in terms of long-term planning or how the Government proposes the fund the very real and substantial costs of climate action.
- Farmers have taken it on themselves to deliver real innovation – re-seeding with clover and multi-species swards is getting traction, so too the reduction of fertiliser use and a move to protected urea and trailed shoe slurry all of which is costing farmers money out of their own pockets. 46,000 have already entered the agri-environment scheme in the new CAP. But environmental campaigners are reluctant to accept this.
- Farmers are being bombarded with leaks of government documents and research papers all of which are ratcheting up the demand to cull up to one-third of our national herd, even though the national herd has been remarkably stable at 7.3-7.4 million animals for the past fifty years.
- A complete failure by the environmental lobby to engage with the carbon leakage argument in the face of a global increase in demand for high quality protein, in a world where food security cannot be taken for granted. In the period 1973-21 our national herd has not increased but world population has almost doubled and they all have to be fed, including the rich.
- Frustration around the foot dragging on recognising that farms sequester carbon, unlike other emission sources, and that this must be fairly allocated to farmers.
- Refusal to engage with the reality that biogenic methane should not be simplistically compared to CO2 and that GWP* is a more appropriate method of assessing global warming potential.
- Farmers in Ireland who have already had land designated under the Natura Directive have been side-lined for many years in terms of compensation for the often devastating consequences of such designations on land values and on their ability to farm that land profitably.
“Farmers want to do the right thing for their families, for food security, for the environment and for the rural communities they live in. But this constant hectoring is not the way forward. It’s all very well demanding more trees be planted but the forestry planting process has been a mess for years now and farm representatives have pleaded for it to be sorted, but in vain. The new initiative by Minister Hackett to encourage one hectare plantations of native trees is a great move, but farmers cannot do it because it is bogged down in Brussels bureaucracy.”
“The Nature Restoration Law so far has been characterised by a complete lack of engagement with farmers on how it is to be implemented and what it will mean. ICSA attended a meeting with the NPWS recently where it was admitted that the failure by the EU to put a dedicated fund in place for Nature Restoration was a huge problem and barrier to its successful implementation.”
“Farmers have been particularly concerned about the potential consequences of re-wetting proposals for productive reclaimed land. Their concerns are valid and all the more worthy of debate when the emissions from re-claimed peatland are international metrics which may be very inaccurate in the Irish context. Current research in Ireland by Teagasc indicates that this contention is likely to be vindicated.”
“In terms of policy at EU level, the entire Green Deal which has been pushed with minimal or no consultation during the Covid period when EU Commission and Parliament buildings were essentially closed is no longer credible as a way forward. In particular, the over-reach by Vice President Timmermans in bullying elected representatives in the EU parliament combined with a complete lack of listening to farm representatives is the cause of this current impasse.”
“Farmers are willing and able to do their fair share – we have 689,000km of hedgerow in Ireland – but the EU Commission must row back from its haughty domineering approach and look again at a set of policies that protect farm livelihoods and support farmers to do more for the environment. We cannot move forward with threats to close down farms, to make farms unviable or to replace farmers with corporations producing insect protein or lab-grown meat.
In recent days, the recruitment of large corporations like Nestle, Unilever and Coca Cola to speak out in favour of the flawed Nature Restoration Law has further alienated farmers from the EU Commission and the environmental lobby. It is time for a re-think so we can move forward with a set of pro-biodiversity policies that farmers can enthusiastically embrace. Unfortunately, the Commission and the Green lobby has pushed too far and the Nature Restoration Law in its current format is not fit for purpose.”