The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) published its document ‘Adaptation Planning - Developing Resilience to Climate Change in the Irish Agriculture and Forest Sector’ last week.
Not surprisingly, the published document represents a missed opportunity for our country. In fact is not so much as a 'plan', but a review of current government policies and practices within the agriculture and forestry sectors. There is little hard evidence in the document in relation to future-proofing against climate change, and perhaps more troubling is the failure for it to engage in any serious review or testing of this Government's current strategies, in particular Food Wise 2025 and Food Harvest 2020. In conjunction with the EPA's recently published National Assessment on Water Quality, it is evident that this government is completely failing to address the challenges of climate change, and this is now putting our farmers' livelihoods at stake, while destroying our nation's natural resources.
The current focus of the DAFM on increasing agricultural production, despite clear evidence of the damage this will do to our countryside, to the viability of small to medium farms, and to the good name of our agri-food industry, displays a clear bias towards large producers and processors to the detriment of all other stakeholders within the sector. Farmers are being pushed to produce more and more, but with little discernable increase in income, and considerable damage to our environment - the race to the bottom is well and truly on.
Worryingly, parts of the document read as if climate change is to be welcomed with opportunities of longer growing seasons, increases in grass and forestry growth, and less frost damage to crops with milder winters. While this may offer some economic benefit in the short term, it is likely to be offset by substantial costs associated with increases in rainfall resulting in more flooding, damaged crops, reduced water quality and poorer animal welfare. One only has to look at the recent devastation from floods in Donegal to get a feel of what may lie ahead. There are also significant risks from new and invasive species of flora and fauna that may have an effect on our agriculture, and this was not addressed.
Although, the document makes reference to existing schemes such as the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) and Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environmental Scheme (GLAS), and while they have their place as important agri-environmental schemes, they do not actively address how we should tackle what lies ahead. Unfortunately, there is no mention whatsoever to the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS), which is potentially one of the most valuable schemes for not only for climate adaptation and mitigation, but also for the quality of our soil, our biodiversity, and our water. The organic sector represents one of our best chances to solve the production and economic conundrum of viable, sustainable farming, yet this government is actively starving this sector of funds and support.
While it is encouraging to see that the DAFM is interested providing ‘active support’ for agro-forestry (Appendix 2), the absence of any reference at all to it in the main body of the text, makes it difficult to believe that this really is the case. It is concerning too that food security was omitted as outside the scope of this document, and this is a shortsighted and questionable position for the Government to take.
The evidence could not be clearer that we need to make the investments and adjustments now, not only to adapt to the effects of climate change, but also in climate change mitigation. We need more continuous cover of native tree species both in upland and lowland areas. We need to maintain and re-wet our boglands. We need to look at crop relocation, and reuse of some of our farmlands. We need to encourage less intensive farming practices. Yet none of these aspects are given any airtime in this so called ‘plan’. We need to invest in our farmers and landowners now to support them to take these necessary measures; which will not only secure their livelihoods in the short and medium term, but also protect their farms and families into the future.