The Taoiseach's address to IFA AGM

Published on: 27 January 2022


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank Tim Cullinan, President of the IFA, for the invitation to speak at your AGM today.

 

This is a significant moment for Ireland and its farmers. We all know of the challenges facing the sector, and the changes that need to be made are substantial. I will not downplay the challenge of decarbonization that faces the country and the world. However, I am here today to stress that this Government will stand behind its farmers as we all adapt to these changes.

 

Agri-food’s performance during the pandemic has highlighted once again the resilience of this sector. Ireland has a long and proud history of agriculture, and I believe we can reinvent and secure this tradition for the 21st century.

 

Contribution of Agri-Food Sector and Food Vision 2030

 

The agri-food sector is Ireland’s oldest and largest indigenous exporting sector. It is an integral part of our economy and society, and especially so for our rural and coastal communities. The importance of the sector is reflected in the number of people it employs and the outputs from farms, forests and aquaculture sites.

 

Last year we launched Food Vision 2030, a strategy for the sector produced in partnership with the sector, including a strong contribution from your President, who sat on the 2030 Committee. 

 

Food Vision is a landmark for the Irish agri-food sector and has the potential to transform our agriculture, food, forestry and marine sectors in the period to 2030. It raises many of the challenges that need to be met.

 

Crucially, it proposes some solutions and endeavors to chart a pathway to sustainability in all its dimensions – environmental, economic and social. It uses a food systems approach, a more holistic view of agri-food and its inter-connectiveness. It identifies some, but perhaps not all of the changes that will inevitably be required of the sector.

 

The primary producer, our farmers, fishers and foresters, have a prominence and centrality in this Strategy that sets it apart from its predecessors.

 

It will involve improving the competitiveness and productivity of primary producers. It also focuses on social sustainability across areas such as generational renewal, gender balance, health and safety, mental health & well-being and rural development.

 

The Strategy is ambitious for primary producers, envisaging an upward trend in Family Farm Income towards 2030, with an increased share of viable and sustainable farms.

 

Agri-food exports, which fell by just 2% in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, rebounded in 2021. The average Family Farm Income increased for the third year in a row in 2021 with dairy, sheep and tillage performing strongly. Indeed, the challenges of the pandemic intertwined with the fallout of Brexit, make the resilience demonstrated by the sector all the more impressive.

The €5 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve represents an important response by the European Union to the challenges posed by the UK’s departure from the EU and an important expression of solidarity with Ireland.   

 

Ireland will receive just over €1 billion in Brexit funding. We will use this Brexit funding to help counter the adverse economic and social consequences of Brexit, including in supports for the fisheries and agri-food sectors.

 

Our Rural Future

 

Despite the challenges of the past two years, Agriculture remains the lifeblood of rural Ireland. We launched ‘Our Rural Future – Ireland’s Rural Development Policy 2021-2025’ in March last year, which reflects this Government’s strong commitment to the sustainability and success of rural Ireland. 

 

It recognises the vital role played by agriculture in rural life and it seeks to actively support the sector to be a sustainable driver of Ireland’s economy.

 

Under the plan, we have already provided investment into rural communities in local transport and active travel, education and training, remote working facilities and digital connectivity, and substantial levels of support for important projects under the Rural Development Investment Programme.

 

Under the renewed National Development Plan, almost one billion euro has been committed to investing in rural and community development projects to 2025. This increased funding signals this Government’s commitment to rural Ireland and the agricultural sector which is at its heart.

 

Agriculture and Climate Targets

 

The agriculture sector, as Ireland’s most important indigenous industry, will continue to play a vital role in Ireland’s economy locally and nationally.

 

It also has a crucial and inescapable role to play in meeting the challenge of climate change and biodiversity loss, while creating resilient farms for generations to come.

 

As I speak to you today, our scientific understanding of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions has crystallised and the evidence of this change is all around us.

 

Local and global weather extremes, rising sea levels and the destabilisation of climatic cycles that have sustained our civilisations for millennia are putting us all in danger.  Climate change is a threat to all of us and to our way of life.

 

Globally we need to dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we are putting into the atmosphere, to have hope of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, keep our ecosystems functioning, and ensure that our planet is safe and liveable for generations to come.

 

In the Programme for Government and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act Ireland has committed to more than halving our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to becoming a climate-neutral economy by 2050 at the latest.

In order to achieve this, we must all play our part and change how we live, how we travel, how we generate and use electricity and how we produce food.

 

The Climate Action Plan 2021, published before Christmas, sets out indicative ranges of emissions reductions for each sector of the economy by 2030 and sets out the actions needed to deliver on our climate targets. Further work will be undertaken in the coming months to determine specific Sectoral Emissions Ceilings for each sector for the period from now until 2030.

The Plan sets a challenging target and set of actions for the sector but I am confident that, as we take this journey together, it can be achieved.

 

Farmers are more than producers of food. They are citizens, men and women with families. They are members of communities and a society that has a vested interest in safeguarding the future of this country.

 

We know the threat that climate change poses. We know that we can only address it by each country playing its part in lowering their emissions and within countries by every sector and community.

 

We are also aware of the growing questions that are being asked of the Agricultural sector about its emissions. These questions will only grow and intensify in coming years as all sectors are asked to play their full part in what has to be a great national effort.

 

I speak to you honestly, as a lifelong friend and champion of Irish Agriculture. We are at a crossroads for Irish farming and for forestry. Threats and opportunities abound but our choice now is to either honestly address the challenge that climate change poses for the sector, and together harness the opportunities that this changing context presents, or, as some voices counsel, to resist what I see is quickly becoming irresistible.    

 

Farmers know their land better than anyone and are well placed to lead in meeting our climate ambitions.

 

Through the Climate Action Plan 2021 and its successors, we will empower farmers with a science-based approach, backed by robust research. Farm practices that enable farmers to produce world-class food while addressing emissions from the sector are key.

 

These will involve less, and more targeted use, of chemical nitrogen while maintaining our position as global leader in grass growth through multi-species swards.

 

Other measures include improving the genetics of our herds to reduce emissions and improve productivity.

We will also incentivise increased organic farming and diversification into forestry, biomethane and energy production. Indeed, we are leading research to bring new technologies and feed additives on stream.

 

More will inevitably be asked of the sector if these measures alone prove insufficient to meet the emissions reductions that are required.

 

Irish agriculture has a very strong future. It can continue to produce world class food while improving its environmental credentials and lowering its emissions, thanks to a science-based approach that also improves biodiversity, and improves the quality of the water in our rivers, lakes and estuaries.

 

CAP Strategic Plan 2023 – 2027

 

Funding proposed in the CAP Strategic Plan will provide the necessary support for the sector to assist farmers and achieve our emission reductions targets.

 

We recently approved and submitted our draft CAP Strategic Plan to the European Commission for approval. I believe this is a fair farmer friendly Plan that will deliver nearly €10 billion worth of payments to farmers over the period 2023-2027.

 

Our increased national co-financing of Pillar II schemes will help farmers contribute towards environmental goals while also delivering income security for family farms. This increase in national funding is a concrete demonstration of the commitment of this Government to farmers and to the wider rural economy.

 

The flagship Agri Environment Climate Measure (AECM) schemes alone will deliver € 1.5 billion to approximately 50,000 farmers.

 

Alongside environmental goals, the CAP Strategic Plan also gives priority to social issues in line with Food Vision 2030. This includes targeted supports for women and qualified young farmers in the on-farm capital investment scheme, allowing them to avail of the higher investment rate of 60%.  Government has also agreed to the allocation of 3% of direct payments to qualified young farmers, representing a 50% increase from the last period.

 

Promoting diversity and ensuring young farmers are supported in this profession will be essential to the vitality and sustainability of the sector.

 

Conclusion

The challenges that currently face agriculture reflect the challenges that face Ireland as a whole – sustainability in the broadest sense.

 

Change will be necessary right across the economy and society to reach our climate goals. The Government is taking the necessary steps to drive this change in a balanced way, including significant support for farmers in mitigation and diversification. 

 

I know that the Irish farming community wants to protect the land for future generations, and this Government is committed to stand with you to achieve this goal. The long-term well-being of Ireland’s farmers and our environment will go hand in hand.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

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