Agriculture Citizens’ Caucus is Wrong Model, Farmer’s Group Says

According to a group of farmers, the proposal to create a citizens’ meeting on agriculture and food production is “ill-conceived” and “the wrong model.”

Rish Labor Party Cork East TD Sean Sherlock said after a lengthy government debate over what sectoral emission ceilings should be set for key sectors of the economy, a citizen’s caucus needs to be set up on the future of agriculture in Ireland.

The result was a compromise level of 25% reduction in emissions from agriculture, 75% reduction in the electricity sector and 50% reduction in the transport sector.

In a statement this week, Mr Sherlock said that after weeks of ministerial talks, “we need to have a national conversation about what the future of agriculture will look like.”

“In order to take the next steps together, free from political short-termism, Labor calls on the government to call a civil assembly on the future of agriculture and food production in Ireland.”

Farmer and village groups questioned such a suggestion, arguing that expertise is needed to discuss agricultural issues, that a citizen’s meeting may not be the best forum for making progress, and that it could double down on previous work.

Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA), told the PA news agency that the idea was “ill-conceived”.

My point is that you can’t come up with grand plans for agriculture if you don’t have the means to carry them out.Eddie Punch of ICSA

“After a couple of weeks where everyone seems to have an opinion on farming, the farmers are, I would say, a little raw after being lectured on how they are destroying the climate over the past few weeks,” Mr. – Mr. Punch.

“Farmers are constantly interested in more sustainable agriculture. But they are also interested in food production, they would also like to produce energy if the government gave them a chance, and of course they have to feed their families with bread.

“I guess the problem with the citizens’ meeting is that you end up… (are) a lot of people who aren’t necessarily interested in farming, who don’t understand what farming means. ”

He added that this does not mean that people who do not farm should not have an understanding of agriculture, but there are problems with asking people who do not farm to come up with solutions on how to improve the industry.

“Much of the farming they do today is the result of years and generations of trial and error to see what works best.

“And that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement, but it also means that you can’t suddenly turn all those livestock farms into carrot farms.

“I mean, this is an incredibly complex set of decisions that 130,000 farmers have to make.

“Farmers are open to change all the time, but the notion that 100 people gathered in a hotel in Dublin for eight weeks, randomly selected, most of whom had never grown anything in their lives or knew anything about farming, the notion that they could to chart a better course than people who have devoted their entire lives to farming the best they can, I think it’s a poorly thought out proposal to be honest.”

He added: “Farmers can be lucky if they make up 20% of the people present at the citizens’ meeting.

“I mean, you can’t come up with grand plans for agriculture if you don’t have the funds to implement them.

“There is a huge complexity to this that has huge financial implications, and frankly, I don’t think the Citizens’ Assembly is capable of taking all of these things into account.

“And even if it does, unless the government says ‘we’re going to put 20 billion (€) on the table and based on what you come up with we’ll allocate it’ maybe… but we’re in the fantasy football league realms at that stage.”

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Cows grazing in Athy, County Kildare (Nile Carson/PA)

Macra na Feirme, a volunteer organization representing 11,000 young people from rural Ireland aged 17 to 35, said a government group had already been convened earlier this year to advise on the issue.

“In March 2022, the Secretary of Agriculture established the National Feed and Food Security Committee (NFFSC). The government has tasked this committee with preparing industry responses, contingency plans and recommendations to help farmers manage their farms during a period of high input price inflation and potential supply pressures.

“This committee was originally conceived as a response to the feed crisis, as a result of Makran’s intervention at Fairm, food security was included in the terms of reference.

“The NFFSC is a Teagasc-led body that includes all major representative organizations.

“Because this body of industry experts has already been convened and is in contact with the government through the Minister of Agriculture, Makrana na Feirma believes that this is the body that should advise on all matters relating to agriculture and food. production.”

Irish Grain Growers group chairman Bobby Miller said the group would be “for any positive talk” on arable farming and in order to “move to solutions we need a good talk, there’s no doubt about it.” .

As long as everything is balanced and they know what they are talking about, farming is a very difficult business in the modern world.Bobby Miller, Irish grain growers group

“(Citizens Assembly on Agriculture) is good if it is balanced and they know what they are talking about – agriculture is a very complex business in today’s world”

“Any conversation that helps achieve our goals is a good day at work.

“As tillage farmers, we feel that we are too much underestimated. From our perspective on climate change, we have a very small carbon footprint. Tillage-only farms are very close to being carbon neutral.”

Mr. Miller said his group believes the grain industry can “thrive” while addressing climate challenges.

Citizens’ rallies have been held in Ireland on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, population aging, fixed-term parliaments, referendums, climate change and gender equality.

One hundred members, including an independent chairman and 99 randomly selected members of the public, meet to study legal and policy issues over several weeks and put forward proposals for government consideration.

There are currently two Citizens’ Meetings, one on biodiversity loss and one on whether Dublin is better suited to a direct mayoral system.

The Citizens’ Assembly should consider how we find solutions to these problems.Irish Labor Party TD Sean Sherlock

Others are planned for drug use and future education.

Mr Sherlock said in a statement that he has “a lot of sympathy” for the farmers who have been told to “tighten up, get ready and move on to dairy production.”

“We are already seeing evidence that cooperatives are providing access to psychological and counseling services because of the pressure that farmers are experiencing.”

Arguing for a citizens’ meeting that would hear from representatives of non-governmental organizations, environmental groups, business, agriculture and civil society, he said: “Such a meeting could consider everything from our food strategy to innovative and sustainable farming practices. .

“Forestry is still the poor cousin and we are far from our afforestation targets.

“Our way of working must change, and the government has a responsibility to make a fair transition for our farming communities to reduce emissions and protect livelihoods.

“This is because more farmers are being paid to sequester carbon.

“The market approach will not provide sustainable agriculture and decent farm incomes.

“The Citizens’ Assembly needs to consider how we find solutions to these problems.”