Ireland should push for GM-free tillage future, Agricultural Committee told
October 2nd, 2017
Investment in the tillage industry is needed for it to play its role in helping to secure Ireland’s commitments under the Paris climate agreement, the Dail’s Agricultural Committee has heard.
A delegation from the Irish Grain Growers (IGG) told the Dáil Committee on Agriculture last week that tillage farmers could play a pivotal role in securing Ireland’s commitments under the Paris Accord. The farming group said that it can play this role alongside increasing food security and reducing our reliance on imported protein crops for animal feeds.
In addition, the IGG wants to see Ireland apply for GM-free status, the committee hearing heard. However, these steps will not be achievable without investment in the industry, IGG secretary Clive Carter told the committee.
He said that many tillage farmers have become disillusioned with low prices and a perceived lack of support and are now transitioning to dairy and other livestock sectors. Tillage accounts for around nine per cent of Ireland’s land base, yet it produces 30 per cent of agricultural output and accounts for around half of all agricultural employment in Ireland.
However, Mr Carter said that the tillage sector is “declining rapidly” and has now been reduced to “small pockets” of the country. He cited Department of Agriculture figures which show a 5.7 per cent decline in the number of tillage farmers in the last year alone (14 per cent since 2012).
He said that tillage crops have huge potential for supplying export markets of craft beer and whiskey, while also benefiting wildlife through improved agronomy, soil enhancement, crop rotation and use of cover crops for carbon capture.
Mr Carter said that Ireland currently imports 1 million tonnes of animal feed per annum, much of which supplies the expanding dairy industry.
Ireland should move away from importing GM grains for animal feeds so that we can gain GM-free accreditation, he added. He said that Irish tillage farmers produce consistently high yields of quality assured grains and, that, if properly utilised and marketed, would ensure premium prices for all Irish food sectors.
“There are issues and problems with GM as we’ve seen in America,” he said, adding that the negative public perception of GM provides a unique marketing opportunity for Ireland to focus on GM-free food for export.
Pat Cleary of Beet Ireland told the committee that tillage crops like oilseed rape and sugar beet have enormous potential as biofuels, especially sugar beet. He said oilseed rape is a versatile crop with many uses, from biofuels to animal feed and cooking oil. He blamed the withdrawal of financial support for the failure of Ireland’s fledgeling processing industry.
Mr Cleary emphasised the potential for sugar beet crops to absorb carbon while providing a range of uses from animal fodder to raw materials for anaerobic digesters.He said beet can be used in ethanol production as well as other industries, citing the way in which Germany has used sugar beet to transition away from nuclear energy. The Irish Grain Growers would also like to see food production prioritised over monoculture plantations like willow or miscanthus, he said.
IGG Chairman Bobby Miller said the reason biofuels did not take off here was that farmers are unwilling to sacrifice arable land for long-term single crop varieties that cannot be easily replaced. He said: “We will not take our land out of production. If there’s marginal land that might suit it fine.”
The committee is set to sit again tomorrow and will hear from Teagasc, the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association, and the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland.
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