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Dairying and climate
change let's go
forward with the facts!
It is a fact that the pace of change and challenge always
brisk seems to have accelerated to a head-spinning
velocity. As I write this the fallout from, and response to,
the very recent crisis and stand-o in our beef sector
is continuing and attention will turn to the Beef Market
Taskforce and the necessity of that group to really get into
the substance of the issue and not become the kind of
`talking shop' that was the fate of the Beef Forum Those
below-costs level of prices paid to farmers for their beef on
a `take-it-or-leave-it' basis have long been a scandal and
the situation is no longer tenable and must be changed.
Right behind that problem and contributing in no small
way to the acrimony and anxiety is the giant darkening
shadow cast by the threat of a no deal Brexit. ICMSA is a
resolutely non-political organisation but It seems to us to
be a matter of profound regret that the progress made and
the positive dynamics that applied so successfully to the
post GFA relationship between Ireland and the UK are now
to be perhaps undermined. It is even more surprising and
regrettable that so few of our friends in London seem in
the least bothered by the prospect that the progress made
so hard won and life-changing could be so casually
jeopardised. We won't know where all this will go and
where we will end up. In that terrible phrase that entered
common usage a decade ago when the Great Recession hit
us, we are where we are. Our members can know that we
will faithfully and relentlessly represent the interests of the
family dairy farmers that comprise our core membership
whatever happens. Of course we will remember too that
as the wreckage of the developer bust lay scattered all over
Ireland's landscape, it was to the farming and agri-food
sector that the Government turned as a economic motor
to begin moving the state slowly but steadily back towards
national solvency. As is traditional in these matters, as
other parts of the economy stabilised and began regaining
confidence, attention to us and our issues lessened and
problems that were going to be looked at were forgotten.
The results of this indi erence are all around us now and, as
mentioned earlier, most specifically to be seen in the beef
sector where we are coming up on the fifth anniversary of
a commitment to review the QPS - a commitment given at
the Beef Forum by then Minister for Agriculture, Food & the
Marine, Simon Coveney, and never actually initiated.
It's a matter of record that ICMSA highlighted most of the
deficiencies currently occupying the attention of other
organisations quite a while before these other organisations
noticed anything amiss. So roughly nine years before anyone
else noticed the design problems with the Grid, ICMSA had
zeroed-in on the design and pronounced that it was going
to divert money from the farmers to the factories. We were
poo-poohed and told that `quality' had to be rewarded.
Now, nearly a decade later and 120 million down, other
farmers have noticed what we noticed then. The penny has
dropped. About 120 million worth of pennies actually.
It is this ability to look at structures and analyse them that
marks us out. It is our ability to look at the problems from
the view of how they a ect farmers our members and
how we can address those problems that is our driving
force. We're not an organisation that focuses on protest and
complaining; we're an organisation that focuses on solutions
and answers.
That's why we hosted a think-tank on Wednesday
September 4 in the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel in Dublin on
climate change and dairying at which an expert audience
drawn from researchers, scientist, environmentalists,
economists, politicians and media were invited to hear
and respond to the latest analysis. We talked about how
carbon emissions are counted and how farmers can reduce
their emissions, we covered soil carbon sequestration under
grassland intensification and in peatlands and forests. We
had the pleasure of listening to the UCD economist, Colm
McCarthy, on consumer trends and European policy and
another presentation by David Styles of NUIG on carbon
neutrality post 2030. We deliberately asked people with
whom we are likely to disagree to `state their case' and we
deliberately sought out those who base their arguments on
data and fact not emotion or hysteria. We asked individuals
to come along on the basis that they will know more leaving
than they will arriving. The response was overwhelming
and Duncan Stewart of Eco Eye declared it the best agri-
environment event that he had ever attended.
The point here is that we know that as farmers we will have
to work with the environmentalists and climate activists and
that we must begin talking to each other and not at each
other. We will not concede on our right to earn a living
and we will defend the inescapable fact that farming and
food production is not just an aspect of rural economic
activity it is, in reality, the sole economic activity in many
rural communities. Nor will we concede on our absolute
conviction that everyone is going to have to pay the costs of
reducing carbon, that means processors, factories, retailers
and, yes, even the consumers. But our overriding concern
here is to remind the Government that while we are open
to fact-based solutions about how we integrate climate
change and dairying, they (the Government) had better not
see themselves as `bystanders' in this process. They're going
to have to help and that's going to involve a whole range
of grants, inducements and proactive funding that enables
the transition to happen and that process must begin in the
Budget on October 8.
In light of the fact that we called some very pertinent aspects
of the beef sector right a decade before others, it would be
well worth the Government's while to look very closely at
what emerges from our process with science, dairying and
the environment.
Pat McCormack
Pat McCormack