Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) president Jerry Long said the co-op movement “will do all that is feasibly possible to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, but the sector needs time and support to bring about what will be a transformation in Irish food systems”.

Long was speaking in response to the publication of the Climate Action Plan on Thursday, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22% to 30% by 2030.

“Co-operatives and their farmer members stand ready and willing to play their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, but the burden they are asked to carry must be fair and proportionate.”

Long clarified: “Nobody should be in any doubt that the target range is deeply challenging.”

Work to be done

He described the work to be done if agriculture’s emission targets are to be achieved.

“A more specific target will be established in time and should only be agreed following genuine consultation with all stakeholders in the sector and the Department of Agriculture needs to initiate this process as soon as possible.

“It is essential that the list of measures outlined in today’s Climate Action Plan are properly planned, supported and funded, as farmers and their co-ops require certainty as to what will be required.

“The transformation envisaged must protect and strengthen the family farm model of production in Ireland by ensuring that our farming systems are economically, as well as environmentally, sustainable.

“This must include a pathway to facilitate sustainable growth, family farm succession and new entrants into the sector, as no industry can be sustainable if it is constrained into the future in the context of constantly increasing costs of production.”

Co-operative support

He said: “Co-operatives will not be found wanting and are committed to supporting farmers along this very challenging journey.

“However, there is no doubt that the target range of 22% to 30% is considerable and onerous for the sector and that new research and technologies will be needed.

“Greater progress to verify the carbon sequestration potential of Irish soils will be required and the role of carbon farming will need to be developed.”

He added: “There is also a real potential to move forward with an indigenous biogas industry based on co-operative ownership, if appropriate supports can be provided by Government.”