Harvest 2020

There is little doubt but that rain-fed, grass based agriculture is the most sustainable form of food production. There is also little doubt but that Irish agriculture has a considerably lower carbon footprint than most other parts of the world. It is to be treasured therefore as a model for other countries to emulate as concerns about climate change and food security escalate.

However the blurring of these two concepts is not helpful. It is primarily climate change which is currently causing, and will cause, increase food insecurity in the developing world. Packaging a proposal to greatly intensify Irish agricultural production as the nation’s gift to alleviating food insecurity thus ignores the environmental costs involved. Harvest 2020 has been inserted into influential decision making circles without a sound Strategic Environmental Assessment being undertaken. As such, the positive spin associated with this has relegated a number of key issues which need a public debate on:

1. How is a 50% increase in the dairy herd compatible with Ireland’s international commitments to reduce ghg emissions in the non-traded sector? In particular is it the case that transport will have to be totally decarbonised by 2020 and the rest of the Irish economy decarbonised by 2050?

2. Is monoculture of Friesian cows an acceptable form of agriculture for the 21st century? What risks are there at a national scale viz. the potato!?

3. Is agricultural intensification predicated on Ireland derogating from the EU Nitrates Directive? If so what are the arguments being advanced to Europe for this second derogation?

These are valid questions which a full and transparent SEA should address. But will they?

John Sweeney


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4 comments so far, add your own below

  • 3 Aug 2012 at 2:20 am Michael Barry

    Food production and sustainability should never be seen to be in conflict. Unsustainable food production or the production of food in areas unsuited to its production is something that we should move away from. At the same time are we prepared to tell people living on the fringe of poverty that we are planning to make their food more expensive due to taxation that allows us to say that we care about the planet?

    This is a debate about balance. A need to provide food to everyone and a recognition that food production of any type has an environmental impact. The challenge for us all is to ensure that impact is as minimal as possible.

    However lets all face the facts; more people need more food and more food has an impact.

    Its just too simplistic to suggest taxation as the solution to this great challenge.

  • 1 Aug 2012 at 4:46 am Breandán Mac Séarraigh

    Harvest 2020 also needs to address the legal requirement to assess any project or plan (whether or not it is a ‘Government’ plan) to see if it will have impacts upon the Natura 2000 network, i.e. SACs and SPAs. This would be a huge job!

    Would greatly increasing agricultural output in Ireland damage freshwater wetlands and rivers that are designated as SACs and SPAs and even affect water quality in estuaries? Quite probably. Irish and European Law requires such ‘Appropriate Assessments’ which must clearly show that there will be no such impact before the authorising body gives its go-ahead.

    If you think this is undoable, perhaps you are right. The Border Regional Planning Guidelines cover six counties. Every proposal and objective needed to be assessed for its potential impact on hundreds of European sites. Not fun but someone had to do it. I was one of the people who did. Harvest 2020 needs the same treatment.

  • 1 Aug 2012 at 4:27 am Richard Auler

    I absolutely agree with John Sweeney that rain-fed, grass based animal production is the ideal, and probably the most sustainable model. To talk in that context about Ireland is, to put it carefully, not accurate. Irish beef production may be grass based but the amounts of concentrates being used to finish the for Irish conditions most unsuitable breeds of cattle is enormous. Most of the ingredients for those concentrates are imported from all over the world and subsequently the final products are shipped around the globe again.

    How anyone can describe such a business model as sustainable escapes me. I also like to see how “sustainability” in this particular case is calculated.

    A successful marketing concept must be based on honesty, but to market Irish beef as grass fed is not honest. It’s twisting the truth and it will backfire some day. The targets of Food Harvest 2020 are absolutely mad. Its authors seem to live on another planet. To propose to increase production to such an extend is environmental suicide, it will ruin our “clean and green” image forever.

    It is time now to look for ways to re-direct agriculture and food production in Ireland to quality and away from quantity. We must put this production on its own Irish legs, as much as ever possible.

    We are still calling it agriculture what is now in fact industrialised food production.We must initiate changes to put “ culture” back into it.

  • 15 Jul 2012 at 9:24 am Robert Emmet Hernan

    Can anyone explain how the carbon footprint of Irish agriculture is measured as there seem to be differing measuring sticks.

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