Irish farming is entering a decade of change the Taoiseach has said, which will affect breeding programmes, chemical fertiliser and organic manure.

Speaking at the IFA 's online AGM on Thursday, Micheál Martin said the programme for government commits to allocate €1.5bn from the carbon tax to “a REPS-2 programme to encourage and incentivise farmers to farm in a greener and more sustainable way”.

“The truth is that agriculture is entering a decade of change in some respects.

“This will impact how we manage our breeding programmes, how we apply chemical fertiliser nutrients and how we apply our organic manures back to the land,” he told IFA members.

Transformative changes

He predicted that the changes proposed within the ag climatise roadmap will be transformative for Irish agriculture.

“In the longer term, out to 2050, the agri-food sector will need to transition to become climate neutral, along with other sectors of the Irish economy,” he said.

He added that farmers have a critical role to play with regard to increased afforestation and carbon sequestration.

“As a Government, we will support the development of on-farm forestry initiatives through the new CAP and invest further in knowledge transfer in this area,” the Taoiseach said.

No sector more exposed

Micheál Martin said no sector of the Irish economy is more directly exposed to the practical impacts of climate change as farmers and fishers.

“I know that I don’t need to tell anyone here about the scale of challenge which lies ahead.

"No sector is more familiar with change and challenge than yourselves,” he told the IFA AGM, adding that agriculture remained the backbone of the rural economy and the Government wanted to work with farmers.

I don’t need to tell anyone here about the scale of challenge which lies ahead

“I was pleased to see the ag climatise roadmap being launched last month,” he said.

“This roadmap will need to evolve over time, given the scale of the climate action challenge facing Ireland, the EU and the world.

“However, it provides clarity on the sort of practical measures we are asking farmers to implement on their farms over the period ahead to start making a difference to emissions.”

COVID-19 challenge

An Taoiseach acknowledged the challenge that the coronavirus pandemic poses for food and meat factories.

“After a difficult start, a huge amount of work has been done to minimise risk in those setting,” he said.

“We have a programme of serial testing of workers at larger food plants and other businesses, which is now in the fifth cycle of testing.

“However, as recent events have shown, the risks remain and we need to redouble efforts to protect the health of workers and the wider community.”

An Taoiseach paid tribute to farmers for the “heroic efforts during 2020 despite dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic” and pledged that the Government would continue to support primary producers and agri-food and drink manufacturers as they trade through continued uncertainty during 2021.