Land use – the issue likely to dominate farmers’ thoughts and minds for the next ten years is the topic under the spotlight in our special publication, in association with KPMG this week.
We detail some of the land use change trends that have happened over the last ten years and are currently going through the various legislative hurdles in Brussels.
As we have detailed numerous times in this publication, the overriding theme of current policy is one of reduced production across the EU. Almost irrespective of environmental efficiency, a blanket production reduction policy is at play.
Despite the EU Agriculture Commissioner highlighting in an interview with us two weeks ago that Irish farming is very sustainable and is used by the EU as an example of how to make sustainable food, a reductionist policy drive and discussion between Irish stakeholders continues.
This Friday, the Food Vision Dairy Group, chaired by Professor Gerry Boyle, meets again following an eight month sabbatical to tease out how to implement dairy cow and nutrient use reduction policies that were part of the final report issued by the group last October.
We can only assume re-igniting this group means creating an action plan for reducing dairy cow numbers and reducing nitrogen use.
It’s very hard to form an opinion on what might happen on this without the specifics around what can be done with land that formerly was used for dairy farming or what level of compensation is on offer.
The Minister for Agriculture said at the IFA Thomond Park climate summit in January he would re-engage the group to consider what might be taken on board from the recommendations.
Considering the final report didn’t get the backing of the IFA, the ICMSA or Macra, it will be interesting to see how creating a dialogue around an action plan plays out.
So the reality is the most significant land use change over the last ten years – the move into more grass-based dairy farming, looks set to be reversed if the stakeholder group continues along its previous trajectory.
Milk processors will see costs rise and in turn will have to reassess investments, product lines and realise alongside this policy shift that the cost of milk production is now more than milk price on Irish dairy farms.
So while Teagasc this week released 2022 results showing the average dairy farmer with revenues of €150,000 in 2022, the 2023 number is likely to be half that, closer to €75,000.
However, Irish dairy farmers won’t do what parent company Boliden did with Tara Mines this week just because they are in cash negative territory and shut down the business.
As we know, Irish farming and food production is resilient, perhaps to a fault, and farming never stops.
Remember some of the solutions or alternatives to land use change pushed at EU level are struggling in terms of a dependable income generator for Irish farms.
Organics is seen as a solution for some European countries where local consumer produce offers an option for direct sale.
For a country like Ireland that depends so much on exporting and with limited organic markets, price premiums unachievable and higher costs at farm level, it’s hard to convince farmers that organic production is the right road, irrespective of what five year area payments are in place.
To finish on land use change, the proposed Nature Restoration law (rewetting) will either get the backing of the European Parliament Environment committee on Friday this week or not. Exactly what area will need to be rewet for Ireland is unknown but it could be between 116,000 and 150,000 hectares.
While there is talk of compensation, again exactly what this looks like might in reality be very different. Completely unknown is what it means for the long-term asset value of land.
So, despite Irish food sustainability credentials and EU food security issues much higher up the agenda at European level, the broad thrust of current and proposed EU policy remains to reduce food production in Ireland.
Irish farmers need to stand up and be counted before the battle is lost on producing sustainable Irish food.
There are seismic changes being planned right now and if we actually believe that they are wrong for society and wrong for the planet, then the onus is on us to do something about it and not stand idly by and let future generations take the hit.
Data centres seem to be preferred to farming despite their impact and lack of local employment as Lorcan Roche-Kelly explains.
Ireland is at a crossroads in deciding how best to use our natural resources, and unless farmers succeed in having their voice heard in reshaping policy, billions of euro and thousands of jobs will be lost to the Irish economy as modelled in an earlier KPMG exercise.