An Oireachtas committee — which has just released a new biodiversity report that includes 15 recommendations on agriculture and land use — has confirmed that not a single member has visited a single farm as part of its “stakeholder engagements.”
The Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Protection has launched a 63-page page Biodiversity reportwhich makes 75 recommendations, on Friday (November 18).
The report is primarily based on evidence gathered by the committee, made up of 15 bipartisan TDs and senators, from a series of stakeholder meetings and three submissions.
According to the Committee’s Cathaoirleach, Deputy Brian Leddin, the report “shows the way” for Ireland to “restore biodiversity in nature and best utilize the benefits associated with diverse ecosystems to mitigate climate change“.
“A key element in restoring biodiversity on land is the implementation of a robust agri-environmental scheme that would give farmers greater incentives to protect and create areas of biodiversity on their land.
“There should be more collaboration with landowners to provide tailored solutions for peatland restoration,” said Deputy Leddin.
In the report, the Oireachtas Committee identified a number of key issues that arose from its work, including agriculture and land use.
The committee stressed that it had heard from stakeholders that “there is ample evidence that the interactions between agriculture and land use and the environment are unsustainable”.
She was also informed by stakeholders that a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to the agricultural sector “is not consistent with the climate ambitions of the European Union or Ireland’s national policies”.
One focus of the report is questions about peatlands and emissions from agriculture and land use.
One of the committee’s recommendations is “the urgent ending of drainage from peatlands and peatlands for agriculture” and the establishment of a national peatland unit to develop action plans.
The report also describes how the committee heard a wide range of evidence from stakeholders.
These included reducing emissions from nitrogen fertilizers, the potential of food additives to reduce methane emissions from livestock, and that the “most immediate solution to reducing methane emissions” is to reduce animal numbers.
“Stakeholders pointed to the lack of CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) incentives to reduce livestock numbers and reiterated that agricultural emissions have not decreased in recent years.”
In its most recent report, the committee ‘agreed’ that ‘intensive farming’ and the drainage of land for agricultural use had ‘played an important role in the loss of diversity in Ireland’s landscapes’.
It also noted that this loss was not entirely due to land in Ireland and that the marine environment was “also severely affected”.
The Joint Environment and Climate Action Committee also acknowledged that farmers would “shop” to “farm land better”.
“The committee cited the view that greater investment in agriculture and local communities is needed to get farmers to do more than just deliver food from their land, to improve and provide air quality and water and recreation spaces .”
In the report, the committee presents 15 specific recommendations for agriculture and land use.
“The Committee recommends that greater efforts should be made to ensure that human activities such as agricultural intensification and afforestation do not further contribute to biodiversity decline.”
Another recommendation outlines the need to implement a “robust agri-environmental program so that farmers are no longer penalized for having areas of biodiversity and wildlife habitat on their land”.
Although the report’s recommendations could have significant implications for day-to-day farming operations, the committee confirmed this agricultural land that none of the 15 members had visited a single farm specifically in relation to their last report.
Deputy Leddin, however, said he was confident the committee’s latest report was representative of the views of farming families and communities by including stakeholders.
The committee worked with Macra and heard evidence from its president, John Keane, and four other executive members of the organization.
The committee also heard from Dr. Brendan Dunford from Burrenbeo Trust in Co Galway, Con Traas from Apple Farm in Co Tipperary and Donal Sheehan from Bride Project in Co Cork.
Deputy Leddin tells agricultural land:
“Members of this committee go to farms a lot, we’re used to going to farms, so I don’t think the committee is lacking in that regard.
“In the course of our deliberations, we actually also had two meetings with the Oireachtas Joint Agriculture Committee. I don’t think it’s fair to say that this committee is unaware.
“We are a cross-party committee representing a wide range of political views and also a geographical spread – both urban and rural. We are absolutely aware of the challenges facing agriculture and no one on this committee wants to go forward and not propose a fair way forward for agriculture.”