Presenting the Inaugural National Farming for Nature Award in Kinvara, Co Galway on Saturday evening (27th October) Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament said the awards highlight the reality that many farmers are acutely conscious of the environment and work every day in harmony with it.
This award recognises the work of farmers around the country with the six short listed finalists drawn from a larger pool of 150 farmers nationwide.
Positive role models of farmers ‘farming for nature’ are essential and we now have role models who are practical farmers, producing food, trying to make a living from the land and doing it with an holistic approach where the environmental challenges are part and parcel of their everyday activities, Ms McGuinness said.
“These finalists provide examples from many parts of the country of how care for the environment is core to their farming enterprise. This is a positive farming story, all too often we only hear about what is wrong about farming.”
She said it’s time to spread the word that environmental issues must be at the core of all farming enterprises, as they already are on many farms.
“It’s also high time to bridge the artificial divide between environmentalists and farmers, which leads to unnecessary and unhelpful conflict and delays further action,” she said.
“Farmers today are conscious of environmental issues, yet they sometimes feel under attack from those who claim to be environmentalist.
“Pressure on the natural environment, on biodiversity, air quality and soils are real, but so too is farmer awareness of these challenges. What farmers need is help and support to deliver for the environment and that support includes advisory systems which focus on integrating environmental delivery with production.”
She said awareness of these important issues are high on the political agenda, with proposed reform of the CAP calling for greater environment delivery.
The proposed new delivery model is designed to give member states more control over how CAP objectives are met. Of the nine strategic objectives in the proposed CAP reforms, three focus on the environment, three on social issues and three on economic issues.
“Climate change mitigation and adaption, sustainable energy, sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air; biodiversity, ecosystem services and preservation of habitats and landscapes are highlighted in the reforms.
“In future, mandatory requirements will include preserving carbon-rich soils, through protection of wetlands and peatlands, nutrient management tools to protect water quality, reducing ammonia and nitrous oxide levels and crop rotation.”
The MEP said there will be an additional eco-scheme for farmers who go beyond the basic requirements, with financial support available.
Pillar 11 payments will also focus on environmental delivery.
“Right now we’re focusing on trying to make sure there is an adequate budget for the CAP post 2020, but we do need a conversation about how the money is distributed and how to ensure that the policy delivers for the many farmers who are delivering for the environment and want to do more, but need additional support,” she said.
The MEP has long called for farmers to take back control of the environment agenda and speak out about what they are doing to protect and enhance it.
“Farmers are too often portrayed as the problem rather than the solution,” she said.
And she said the only people who can protect and enhance our environment are farmers, who are the boots on the ground.
“The look and feel of our varied countryside is down to the work of our farmers managing and maintaining that landscape.
“Today we know more about how fragile our environment is, how biodiversity is under threat, how inappropriate use of agri-chemicals can contaminate our waters.
“We also have the knowledge and wherewithal to address these issues. Today farming is much more than about maximizing production. It’s also about the environmental impacts of how we produce, what we produce and where we produce.”
Ms McGuinness expressed concern about the relatively low incomes earned from farming and how for many farm families, off-farm income is essential for survival.
Turning to the awards themselves she said the finalists are true leaders.
“They are best in class and they are setting the standards and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.”
She congratulated the winners.
The ceremony marked the end of The Burren Winterage School, an annual conference on High Nature Value Farming and sustainable farming which brings together farmers, researchers, farm advisors and government representatives to share perspectives and ideas on sustainable pastoral land management.
This year’s theme was ‘Farming for Nature’.
Ms McGuinness said great credit was due to the organisers for an excellent and comprehensive programme of activities.
She complimented the Burren Programme, managed by Brendan Dunford, describing it as one of the EUs flagship environmental programmes delivering for the community, with sustainable farming practices at its core.