Now that the dust is settling on the 25% agricultural emissions reduction target, who do you trust to ensure a just transition for agriculture?
After seeing the grass under the feet of communities that depended on peat for a living, I can’t say I have faith in transition or justice.
The men and women who had spent their lives acquiring skills around the processing of a natural resource had had just over a year to change their working life and retrain for another. career.
A similar situation could evolve in agriculture, except on a scale about 100 times larger. Some will vehemently oppose the idea that the costs or losses of agriculture should be borne by anyone outside of agriculture.
They argue that no one has forced cattle farmers to stick to what they know best or dairy farmers to increase their numbers, so why should the taxpayer now have to pay to compensate farmers for their lost income?
This despite the fact that Joe Public will almost certainly end up bearing the cost of all other measures. The increase in the cost of electricity as we shift from fossil fuels to renewables will be spread across all users, which is basically everyone.
The cost of switching to electric vehicles, greener buildings and the deployment of more public transport systems will fall entirely on the consumer and taxpayer.
And the same must apply to agriculture. It’s not farmers’ fault that they lost in the emissions lottery, winners and losers of which have only emerged in the past decade.
People who chose to work in public service, IT, health care or whatever never did so because it was a lower carbon emitter. Likewise, no one in agriculture had any idea that their sector would be singled out as a major contributor to global warming just 10 years ago.
And despite government promises that the new targets won’t require a reduction in herd numbers, dogs on the streets know that all measures such as reduced use of fertilizers, new feed additives and breeding strategies farming, earlier slaughter dates and more manure rules will not be enough to reduce emissions by 25% by 2030.
So either the targets should be ignored or we are looking at a cull of at least 10% of the national herd.
This immediately triggers farm lobbyists with all sorts of doomsday numbers that suggest billions of dollars will disappear from the rural economy. However, Teagasc’s analysis by its economic unit FAPRI points to a less drastic scenario.
Obviously, if there are fewer cattle to calve, feed, milk, truck and slaughter, there is less economic activity in the system.
But given the marginal profitability of beef for the vast majority, revenues from dry cattle farms are expected to remain similar regardless of the drop in numbers. Plans to increase subsidies for anyone going organic should help soften the blow and hopefully there will be a similar push to allow farmers a late entry into a booming renewable energy sector through anaerobic digesters and solar panels.
The situation on dairy farms will be different, since each additional cow produces a substantial additional profit. And if it has been decided that society will benefit from the slaughter of some of these cows, then society will have to share the cost.
The alternative where farmers end up paying the vast majority of the costs will simply marginalize this part of society.
We will end up with a disenfranchised rural minority who will cling to any lunatic who promises them what they want to hear.
Think Trump in rubber boots and a tweed hat. Or a Boris type who insists on holding his pants up with string to prove how close he is to the “decent and ordinary” Irish people.
Come to think of it, we already have a few political candidates who could fill those slots without having to miss a beat. They would launch their own versions of MAGA to make Ag Great Again, but gradually they would be discovered for who they really were.
Our planet is overheating, and huge chunks of it are at risk of becoming inhospitable. This is when mass immigration will really begin.
It’s a bit like the war which was lost for lack of a horse, which was lost for lack of a shoe which, in turn, was lost for lack of a nail. Except that we risk losing entire countries for lack of collective action aimed at reducing emissions.
We are in the same boat, so we also have to share the burden together. Any other way just doesn’t make sense.
Surely there is a political leader who has the means to make things happen?
Darragh McCullough runs a mixed farming business in Meath, elmgrovefarm.ie.