Consumers will pay more for sustainably farmed foods, but only if farmers up their game and raise environmental standards, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has said.
Minister Ryan told attendees of Teagasc’s energy in agriculture event in Gurteen Agricultural College that by bettering its green credentials, family farms can remain producing food without having to compete in the marketplace with South American exports.
“We are not going to compete – our family farm system – with the big Texan or Chinese or Argentinian or other lots where you might have 15,000 cattle in a 3ha enclosure. That’s not the market that we are competing with,” the minister said.
“Our family farms come on a different size, a different scale. And our strategy should be to aim for a premium price,” he commented.
This value-added strategy would be driven by improving the sector’s biodiversity, climate and animal standards, Minister Ryan explained.
He added that paying farmers for energy and environmental services would diversity farm incomes.
“If we tie ourselves into one market or one supplier or one customer or one way, then that is a higher risk. So, diversity in income will give our family farms strength.”
The environment minister continued his remarks by stating that consumers are willing to pay higher prices for agri-food goods to reward the “skills of the farmer” - skills which include knowledge of sustainable practices.
This was a point on which he was challenged by Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan, who argued that organic beef and dairy farmers were currently receiving less for their produce than those farming conventionally.
Another issue Cullinan took with the minister’s remarks was that of the feasibility of continuing to graze rewetted peatlands, which the IFA president maintained could not be stocked to the extent suggested by Minister Ryan.