The greening measures, being introduced as part of reformed Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) added to cross compliance, will form the baseline for any new agri-environment measures and significant work is required to transform the proposed Rural Development Programme (RDP) framework into schemes suitable for Irish farming and the environment. 

That was the message from Alan Matthews, Professor Emeritus of European Agricultural Policy in Trinity College Dublin, who was speaking at the Teagasc Agri-Environment Conference in Tullamore today.

Speaking on the topic of CAP greening and the future directions for Ireland’s rural development programme, Matthews pointed out that in the design of  a new agri-environment scheme, payments could be made to groups of farmers or land managers to achieve landscape-level benefits. He also stressed the need to make available sufficient advisory capacity on the regulatory requirements and on actions relating to innovation.

Teagasc Environment Specialist Mark Gibson said there was important work being undertaken by numerous organisations across Ireland in developing blueprints for future agri-environment schemes. He said there is an obvious need for all stakeholders to work more closely together, particularly in relation to the design and implementation of schemes.

According to Padraig Brennan of Bord Bia, food companies want to see how they can source their raw materials most sustainably. In his paper on sustainable agriculture and responding to new market demands, he said Irish dairy products are lowest in the EU in terms of their carbon footprint and our beef is in the top five in terms of sustainable production.

He highlighted the Carbon Navigator tool, developed between Teagasc and Bord Bia, which helps beef farmers focus on the measures they can adopt to improve efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint.

Teagasc environmental economist Mary Ryan outlined the results of a survey of almost 1,000 farmers carried out by Teagasc in 2012, which provides valuable feedback of what farmers think of agri-environmental schemes.

It showed that there was strong environmental awareness among farmers and that they were very positive towards the benefits from the agri-environment schemes. The study showed that farmers placed a high value on the support they received from their farm adviser.

The need to provide educational supports for farmers to assist them meet their cross compliance commitments was emphasised by Teagasc environment specialist Tim Hyde. He said that regulation alone will not achieve the environmental objectives of CAP and that resources need to be refocused towards building farmer understanding of their requirements.