Hill farmers need to get paid for the multiple benefits their lands deliver in terms of carbon storage, biodiversity and habitat protection, those attending an uplands conference in Westport were told last week.
The joint Teagasc-CAFRE symposium discussed future management strategies for Ireland’s hill lands under the headings of carbon emissions, biodiversity, water management and livestock farming.
There was agreement across the various panels that farmers had to be rewarded for delivering public goods and services.
Connemara farmer Brendan Joyce said it was essential that this was agreed, and that the delivery of such goods and services were classified as agricultural activities.
“I must be paid if I am delivering a public good as part of my agricultural activity,” Joyce maintained.
“That message needs to go back to all the lobby groups that are making a case for environmental measures.
“If you are talking to farmers about the management of land, you need to understand that he or she needs to make a living from that piece of ground.
“And if, for example, you are asking them to reduce stock or do something that might compromise his [her] agricultural area or agricultural activity, then that’s an area where the farmer’s income must be absolutely protected,” he insisted.
This position was supported by Professor Phil Jordan of the University of Ulster, who told the symposium that improvements in water conservation and quality were services to the public and were therefore “transactions”.
Meanwhile, Florence Renou-Wilson of UCD pointed out that close to €100m in Government funding was targeted at transitioning 80,000ha of Bord na Móna lands away from industrial peat harvesting.
She said hill farmers in the west of Ireland should “demand as much money” to retain their lands in a good environmental condition so as to prevent degradation and carbon losses.
The symposium also heard calls from farmers and Donegal vet Ger Roarty for a dedicated hill research farm to be established by Teagasc.
This would enable Teagasc to fill what Roarty described as “the gaps in technical knowledge” that currently exist around hill farming.
Roarty said the excellent research work being carried out in Northern Ireland and Britain was in stark contrast to that being undertaken in the Republic of Ireland.
Roarty pointed to the presentation by Nicola Warden of CAFRE, whose work at the Glenwherry research farm in Antrim demonstrated that it was possible to improve biodiversity on hill farms without compromising commercial activity.
Warden outlined the positive increases in red grouse, snipe, curlew, lapwing and hare populations at the Glenwherry farm, while also showing that lamb and beef output has been improved.
The adoption of new technologies and changed management practices – including forest removal to reduce predation of nesting birds as well as virtual fencing technologies for livestock – contributed to positive results for habitats, she told the symposium.