Irish farmers need to adapt to more sustainable means of production to help combat climate change, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has said.
Mr Hogan said Ireland needed to get serious about developing more sustainable means of agriculture but the new Common Agriculture Policy would assist them in this by placing greater emphasis on measurable results for which they would be rewarded by the EU.
“We must get serious in our mission to make farming greener and cleaner. The recent drought in Ireland and across Northern Europe has reminded us in a very serious way that the climate challenge is not going away,” Mr Hogan told the West Cork Forum at the Taste of West Cork Food Festival.
Irish farmers, who do adapt to more sustainable production and help contribute to the EU’s ambitious climate and environment targets, will be rewarded for this work, through a mix of mandatory and voluntary incentive-based measures.
Sustainable production will lead to spill-over economic opportunities in agri-tourism and eco-tourism, which is highly relevant in west Cork and the bioeconomy there, as elsewhere in rural Ireland, and has massive potential for job creation and growth, he said.
Mr Hogan said the plan was all about exploiting the value added from the byproducts of primary production and forestry and he instanced the example of a new bio-refinery at Lisheen in Co Tipperary that converts byproducts from the dairy industry into high value bio-based products.
Support from Leader, local authorities and private investment will be critical in relation to exploiting the potential of the bioeconomy in rural areas such as west Cork and farmers and rural communities should look at the opportunities and funding support available, he said.
He said he was confident the future was bright for food producers and rural communities, given the increasing numbers of discerning consumers both in Europe and around the world who were willing to pay a premium price for good food and drink, sustainably produced.
“Where once food was for sustenance only, we now have an appreciation of quality, provenance and sustainability, Ireland, . . . is fast becoming a “foodie” nation and west Cork has led the charge, developing sophisticated local products and value chains long before this caught on elsewhere.
“The region is synonymous with high-quality locally produced food and seafood. The temperate Gulf Stream climate, unspoilt natural landscape and generations of local know-how all contribute to making the area home to some of the finest food in the country.
“And I want to emphasise the fact that maintaining this strong focus on quality is your best bet for continued success in the future. Good food means good business, and if you focus on products that emphasise quality, traceability, and sustainability, you won’t go far wrong.”
Producers in west Cork can take advantage of these opportunities to drive local job creation in the coming years and the CAP will continue to provide income support to small- and medium-sized farmers, thereby guaranteeing the continued supply of raw materials for artisanal food production.
The commission’s recent overhaul of EU organic legislation will provide stronger support for west Cork’s growing organic farm sector while EU rural development funding will continue to support SMEs and other economic activity in rural communities, notably food and agri-tourism, he said.