The threat posed by climate-related cuts to agricultural production will require a co-ordinated and unified response from the farm organisations.

That was the surprising closing message from a well-mannered farm leaders’ debate, which was hosted by the Irish Farmers Journal on Tuesday evening.

While sharp differences on CAP reform and the merits of dairy-beef resulted in some caustic exchanges, the existential challenge posed by the climate crisis prompted a call for unity.

IFA president Tim Cullinan warned that the sectoral target for carbon emissions cuts from agriculture was likely to result in the “most fundamental change” in Irish farming since the foundation of the State.

Cullinan said that the farm organisations were going to have to “work together” to defend the interests of the industry.

This view was echoed by ICMSA leader Pat McCormack.

“Climate change is the one thing we can all unite on,” he agreed.

Environmental issues

In an evening that was not short on unanimity, the farm leaders also broadly agreed on environmental issues.

In addition, there was full backing from all participants when asked if they would commit to supporting gender inclusivity in the next CAP.

However, there was some reticence around the idea of an umbrella model – similar to that employed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for labour matters – to represent the broader interests of farmers.

All of the representatives accepted that there were times for concerted action, but pointed out that they had to represent their specific members’ interests primarily.

As Bobby Miller of the Irish Grain Growers explained, there were times when combined action worked well, but there were other occasions when targeted lobbying was required.