Former European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, took a swipe at the Irish Government's delivery on a renewable policy for Irish farmers while speaking at the Future of Agriculture in the European Union conference in Ghent, Belgium, on Thursday.

Taking place against a back drop of burning tyres and manure piles in Brussels, the conference took place as farmers all over Europe, including Ireland, protested at the over-regulation of food production.

Not one to miss an opportunity, the Kilkenny man and former Trade Commissioner sent a shot across the bows at his Fine Gael colleagues, suggesting they are not doing enough for Irish farmers to deliver alternative sources of income.

"Think about it, all farmers are listening to are penalties, timelines, targets and negative point of view stories. So what can we do to tell farmers of the dividends and benefits of the Rural Development Program?

"I’m very frustrated, even with my own country of Ireland, where it was clear over the last two years that they needed to produce a biomethane strategy and to be able to catch up on what is happening in Denmark for example, who are doing a fantastic job on the alternative sources of income.

"So, if advisory services [Teagasc] can be mobilised and strengthened to help farmers, to find the additional sources of income from carbon farming – from anaerobic digestion, from battery storage, from methane storage – all of these can provide a very important income source.”

Just this week, the Government published the much-hyped draft biomethane strategy for industry consultation.

The draft document is supposed to be the roadmap to develop over 200 anaerobic digestion plants by 2030. This target looks to be getting further and further away from farmers and reality.

Irish co-ops

Not only targeting the Government, Phil Hogan targeted the Irish co-ops to also take the lead on developing opportunities for farmers.

"If farmers are isolated on their own, then nothing will happen. I think co-ops need to take a lead on this and start demonstrating to farmers that there is an opportunity where farmers come together in co-ops; that there is an additional source of income in addition to the milk and beef that they are supplying to co-ops, that they can be come together, with the help of some financial support from the second pillar [of CAP], in order to ensure they get these additional sources of income.”

He went on to say the positive knock-on effect on society is that this further improves emissions, improves water quality and helps with improving the environment.

The former Trade and Agriculture Commissioner was invited to speak to delegates, given his experience on trade in the EU.

Hogan resigned from his role as Trade Commissioner in August 2020, following his attendance at an Oireachtas golf society dinner in Clifden when COVID-19 restrictions were in place.

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