Land use and land use change is and will be a defining topic for farmers, food producers and everyone who lives in rural Ireland for the next 10 years.

The easy solutions and soundbites by those who don’t or don’t want to understand the role farmers and food producers play in rural Ireland is to discuss a “national cull” or all the “negatives only” that livestock and farmers bring to rural Ireland.

As central actors in the land use space, farmers more often than not are used as scapegoats and often their work managing the countryside, running a business is unfairly portrayed and isolated.

As an industry, we badly need a full-scale and wide-ranging report that contains options for land use change but also consequences and impacts – not just for farmers but for rural and urban Ireland.

What mix of actions can deliver a balanced food and environmental objective that has a vision and timeframe that works for all? New science and modern accounting mechanisms will help to meet ambitions easier.

The subsequent impact on rural towns and villages of such land use changes needs to be analysed. After all that, the policy needs to be drafted and debated.

Environmental ambitions

The nub of the issue here is that very soon “forestry” is to be included with “agriculture” into a new accounting system for greenhouse gas emissions. This will make meeting environmental targets an even bigger industry challenge.

Instead of just being 21,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in the red because of farming, including the broader “land use” category with farming will mean combined, the carbon dioxide equivalent will be closer to 28,000 kilotonnes in deficit.

What next?

It is very clear that the Government is kicking the can down the road. The policy implications of this land use review, combined with existing farming environmental challenges, involve vote-swinging decisions to be taken.

In this vacuum of inaction, delay tactics, leaks and indecision, the farmers producing food make headlines in mainstream media for all the wrong reasons.

Idealistic proposals to grow more grain are failing miserably

There is a clear roadmap to bring this research work together sooner rather than later to allow this crucial piece of land use review be taken seriously and subsequent policy developed.

At the moment, Government policy is trying to kickstart a forestry programme. However, the engine hasn’t fired yet. Recent moves on not compensating farmers who have ash dieback in plantations won’t help the forestry plan, despite public announcements and fanfare.

Another 2,000 of the 130,000 farmers are transitioning into pseudo-organics with subsidy sweeteners to further reduce stocking rates.

Political decisions are being taken not to support the compensation and phased transitioning of the suckler sector so it withers away.

Further political decisions sold as environmental solutions, such as new nitrate restrictions, are being imposed on dairy farmers to further reduce stocking rates.

Idealistic proposals to grow more grain are failing miserably. CAP reform is moving money from production to environmental ambitions.

Very clearly, the Government needs to grab a firm hold and show policy leadership for a sector so important to rural Ireland. Delighted to partner with KPMG in this excellent piece of work that provides much food for thought and discussion on a sensitive topic that has big implications for everyone in rural Ireland.

Jack Kennedy.