The Irish agricultural system will have to change dramatically over the next decade to reduce emissions and increase equality and sustainability. The Teagasc Annual Farm Survey shows that just 36% of 135,000 Irish farms are currently considered viable – mostly concentrated in the dairy industry. In all other sectors, Common Agricultural Policy payments are key to on-farm survival, with many farmers forced to work off the farm to supplement their incomes.
A recent report by the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change showed that, when time spent working is factored in, agriculture is now the most unequal sector in the country, with the top 10% of farmers receiving 30% of all income.
The other major challenge in agriculture is emissions. Farming contributes 33% of Irish emissions versus just 10% on the continent. The difference is due to higher levels of intensive production, a culture of beef and dairy farming and a low level of forestry cover. Ireland currently uses 65% of its land for grazing and 10% for forestry, for example, whereas the split in Europe is around 40% agricultural land and 40% forest cover.
In order to make agriculture more economically and environmentally sustainable, we propose breaking the monopoly control of the big agri-corporations and incentivising small and medium-sized farmers to diversify the sector through horticulture, organic products, bee-keeping, widening hedgerows, hemp, agro-forestry, forestry, wetlands and any other forms of agriculture capable of absorbing carbon.
Big agri-companies are committed to increasing beef and dairy production, regardless of the environmental impacts, but small and medium farmers are in a very different category. Their aim is to secure a livelihood for their families in a way that maintains their link to the land and sustains their lives in rural Ireland.
Our proposed anti-pollution fund from the profits of big agri-businesses would incentivise farmers to give part of their land to environmental initiatives for the benefit of wider society.
Any idea that Fine Gael take climate initiatives seriously has been undermined by the Central Statistics Office, which has shown that from 2012 to 2016, the state gave annual subsidies of €2.5 billion in fossil fuel supports and €1.5 billion in agricultural supports to industries and initiatives that incentivise behaviour that damages the environment.
Each year, Fine Gael support a €500 million subsidy for cheap diesel for the agricultural sector even as they impose carbon taxes on the rest of us. Our alternative is to support farmers who reduce emissions through a major Just Transition Fund and a carbon tax on the major polluting industries.
By creating an anti-pollution fund from the profits of big agri-businesses, we can incentivise farmers to offer part of their land to environmental initiatives that will benefit the wider society.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine estimate that it will cost €567 million annually to plant 125,000 hectares of trees – made up of a mixture of broad leaf, native species and Sitka Spruce.
If farmers take up this scheme over 10 years, it will leave 70% of their land still available for other forms of agriculture that will be further incentivised to move away from beef and dairy.
The following are our key policy proposals for agriculture:
Summary of our key initiatives in agriculture
Total emissions in Ireland 2019
Total emissions in Agriculture 2019
Estimated reduction in emissions per annum by 2030
Percentage decrease in the sector over 10 years
Estimated cost per annum