The eighth annual Irish Farmers Journal/KPMG Agribusiness report is available inside Thursday’s Irish Farmers Journal (21 May).
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed huge strain on Ireland’s agri-food industry but just like the last downturn, Ireland’s agri-food sector will be ready to support the economic recovery. With the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, along with the ongoing Government formation talks involving the Green Party, it couldn’t be more appropriate that the theme of the 2020 Irish Farmers Journal/ KPMG Agribusiness report is sustainability. This will be the eighth annual edition of the report produced by the Irish Farmers Journal and our long-standing partners in KPMG whose support makes this report possible every year. This year’s report highlights how Irish farmers and food producers are not standing still when it comes to climate action, improving biodiversity, switching to renewable energy and transforming our food production system into one that meets the 2050 sustainability goals. There’s enormous change taking place. However, we must always be aware that true sustainability is a journey that not only delivers for the planet and society, but also provides a fair economic return for the primary producer.
Leaving aside the serious challenges posed by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, the coming years will be crucial for Irish agriculture as major policy changes are coming down the line in Europe and Dublin that will shape the future of our industry. In Brussels, the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has spelled out her ambition for the future direction of the EU with her Green Deal proposal. Von der Leyen wants the EU to be carbon-neutral by 2050 by introducing sweeping changes across member states in terms of energy, transport and agriculture. It says much about current thinking in Brussels that its new Farm to Fork strategy for European agriculture is under the remit of the Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakidou and not under the direction of DG Agri.
The enormous volume of C02 that Irish grasslands and farms actually sequester out of the atmosphere every year is consistently absent in this debate.
In Ireland, the Green Party’s condition for entering government formation talks was a commitment to reduce emissions by 7% per annum. This has led to renewed calls for a reduction in our national herd as a quick-fix solution to reducing Ireland’s emissions profile. Yet the enormous volume of C02 that Irish grasslands and farms actually sequester out of the atmosphere every year is consistently absent in this debate. There is a huge knowledge gap in our understanding of carbon sequestration and significant investment in research on this side of the carbon cycle is badly needed in the coming years. Setting a fair emissions target for farmers is impossible without knowing the net figure for agricultural emissions. Ideology aside, Ireland’s grass-based production system makes it one of the most sustainable places in the world from which to produce high-quality beef and dairy. Reducing production here will only see that production shift to other parts of the world where the associated emissions will probably be higher. Ireland has all the ingredients for sustainable food production. All that’s missing are policies that back our farmers and put their economic sustainability on an equal footing with the environment or climate. That’s what true sustainability will look like.
“Ireland’s agri-food industry remains a global leader in sustainability. The sector continues to break new ground every year thanks to cutting edge new research on carbon neutral beef and dairy farming, environmental sustainability and even how we can breed ‘climate-smarter’ cattle with lower emissions. There’s a lot of challenges facing the sector but it’s important to recognise the enormous change that’s taking place in Ireland’s agri-food sector as it transforms to meet its climate and environmental targets.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered profound change in the agribusiness sector, sharpening the focus on all aspects of sustainable food production. Ongoing policy developments both here in Ireland and from Europe will continue to accelerate this focus. While these changes will inevitably create challenges, there is a real opportunity for Irish agri-food businesses to leverage our global reputation for high quality and best practice to pioneer future developments in this area.”