Ciara Boyle

July 15, 2020

Why a dialogue with Irish farmers is key to tackling climate change

Why a dialogue with Irish farmers is key to tackling climate change

Ciara Boyle

July 15, 2020

So, you’re chatting to your friends and have managed to get yourself into yet another climate change debate. This time it’s heated; the contentious topic of meat and dairy farming has come to the fore. In the media we often see farmers and climate activists on opposite sides of the argument. A complicated issue, if you’re someone who’s passionate about the environment and the future of this planet, there are a few considerations worth bearing in mind before you go pointing the finger at farmers. Playing the blame game is not a solution!

The bare facts

Here are some valuable facts about Irish agricultural industry (the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in Ireland) along with achievable solutions you can advocate for. Because, while being informed is vital in the fight against climate change, co-operation and mutual respect between farmers and activists is important if we are to make any meaningful progress. Change is possible if the government is willing to responsibly incentivise certain industries and work with businesses of all sizes. No man left behind. 

From bad to worse, to not-so-bad

When looking at the climate targets set by the EU, alarmingly, Ireland is off course by one of the largest margins in Europe. Worse still, our emissions are set to grow for the next 10 years. At 34%, Ireland’s agricultural industry is its  largest emitter (followed by transport at 21% and the energy industry at 20%) and as the Irish population increases year-on-year, agriculture industry looks set to follow suit. A growing agricultural sector will see an increase in herd sizes among cattle farmers, resulting not only in more methane but also nitrous oxide, fertilizers, and manure on the soil.

A noteworthy point is that one EU study found Ireland’s grass-based system produces the lowest emissions of any EU state for dairy and 5th lowest for beef. This supports Irish farmers’ claim that if they did not produce beef and dairy it would be produced in other less environmentally friendly ways in other countries (e.g. rainforests are being felled for cattle pasture in South America).

Agricultural Adaptability 

Those who argue that farmers are “too stubborn and will not change” fail to remember that the sugar beet industry that was once a hugely important part of the Irish agricultural landscape. While the demise of the Irish sugar beet industry was handled poorly by the EU, Irish farmers showed their resilience and adaptability, aided by governmental intervention in the form of effective policies. 

The same is needed today.

Increased taxes & a hard dose of reality

While an increase in carbon taxes on certain industries will be vital to help encourage greener farming practices, incentives rather than barriers should be the main tool the government uses. Alternative use of land, such as silvopasture, agro-forestry and varied crops, can enable farmers to become more financially stable and to adjust to a climate conscious future. The EU has promising plans to incentivise agro-forestry, which would allow farmers to support the growth of native woodlands while keeping their cows. 

Nonetheless, although the government needs to work with farmers to create viable opportunities for changes in agriculture and land use, it is critical that farmers acknowledge the severity of the climate crisis and the key role they will play in ensuring food security in our changing world.

Going forward

A mixed policy approach can drive change. As an individual you can take action by emailing your local TD. Because individuals can only do so much without the support of the government and governmental policies, we also need to engage in collective action. To see effective climate change policy, we must work together and demand change. 


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