The Irish Government has not been honest with farmers on the climate challenges agriculture is facing, according to Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore.
The Wicklow TD also said that agricultural policymakers are “not facilitating engagement” with farmers on the measures needed to reduce agriculture’s carbon emissions.
Describing her own consultation with farmers, she said they are open to doing what the Government needs them to do, but the reality of what’s facing the sector is not being communicated.
Whitmore was speaking during a discussion on the carbon budgets set for Ireland during a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment and Climate Action on Thursday.
Whitmore said she understands the fears from young farmers that a future in farming may “not be economically feasible”.
Questioning Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) deputy president Brian Rushe on the IFA’s position on the targets set for agriculture, Whitmore asked whether farmers would reduce cow numbers if they were paid to do so and if there was no reduction in farm profit.
Rushe said: “Any measure to reduce farm levels must involve bringing people on a journey.”
He criticised use of the phrase “national herd” and said “all it does is create division”.
He said that the family farm must continue to be valued and that a high proportion of farmers run cattle on their farms.
However, he admitted that farmers "are not immune to change” and that bringing them “with us” is a “challenge”.
On Tuesday, Whitmore, who is the Social Democrat spokesperson on climate as well as biodiversity, probed Teagasc’s Dr Kevin Hanrahan on policies that could be applied to secure a reduction in the national herd.
She asked if cattle farmers should now be looking at reducing inseminations and pregnancies in order to reduce the national herd.
Dr Hanrahan said that such a policy would not be efficient, as the cow would still remain producing emissions.
He described how he thinks farmers will respond to economic incentives or “implicit taxes” over the coming years in relation to livestock production and said he believes that over time, this is likely to lead to a reduction in some levels of activity.