Tackling the conflict between farmers and environmentalists is a huge challenge, but one that must be solved for progress to be made on improving the farm sector’s sustainability, according to European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness.

Commissioner McGuinness warned that “conflict can lead to a slower rate of change” unless resolved, even though it “is part of debate”.

“That war, that illegal invasion, sadly is still with us, and it is still having dramatic impacts, particularly around global food security,” the Commissioner said at the Alltech ONE conference in Dublin.

Divisive

Other conflicts exist between EU citizens, member states and the EU and its global partners, she explained.

“And those conflicts are real, they are quite dramatic and, indeed, conflicts between environmentalists and farmers can be quite deep and divisive, and they shouldn’t be, and both sides know that.

“But finding a way to communicate beyond division is posing a huge challenge and that’s why having events like this where you can sit and listen and talk to each other is better in my view.”

Commissioner McGuinness also warned that environmental issues must be addressed globally, not only in the EU.

She maintains that the EU can use its role as a global leader to steer its partners around the globe to take action and begin to solve environmental challenges.

“But the one thing I would say is that Europe on its own leading is no good if we don’t have others with us, and I’m very conscious that we cannot tackle biodiversity loss globally and the climate challenge alone.

“We need to work with global partners,” she added.

Larger companies in the agri-food sector have a responsibility to work with those in their supply chains to help the sector address sustainability issues.

'Public policy has changed'

The Commissioner stated that some of the practices employed by farmers to increase productivity in the past “went too far”, such as hedgerow removal, land drainage and chemical fertiliser use.

Better communication is needed to explain to those who farmed during this era that public policy has changed, she suggested.

“I think it is important to acknowledge today that there is a generation of farmers with that motivation,” she said.