Published: Wed, 23 September 2020
The months ahead will be crucial for Irish farmers as we see a number of key policies at EU level being finalised.
Since March we have seen the enormous impact of COVID-19 on our economy and the important role that farmers have played in keeping our supermarket shelves stocked. As part of the EU’s recovery plan, much emphasis is being placed on strategic investments, and supporting the EU’s ‘strategic sectors’. As the provider food of the highest quality, Agriculture is perhaps the most strategic EU sector of all, and our approach to the new CAP, along with other EU funding programs currently being finalised, must recognise this.
Farming is the lifeblood of our rural communities, with agri-food contributing around 8% to Ireland’s GNI and employing around 175,000 people. We must make sure our farmers are given a fair income at this crucial time, support the family farm, and enable them to produce high quality, sustainable and healthy food that Ireland is famous for.
We must also work to ensure farmers are equipped to deal with the significant challenges ahead.
We still have a huge amount of uncertainty around Brexit, and whatever the outcome is at the end of 2020, the fact is that the best outcome for farmers would have been the UK remaining in the European Union. Still, Brexit has come to pass, and the priority now must be to ensure a deal that maintains our access to UK markets, and ensures a level playing field so that UK producers cannot ignore standards on things like food safety, animal welfare, health and the environment that Irish farmers rigorously adhere to.
There is a lot of work ahead of course, but the new €5 billion EU Brexit Adjustment Reserve agreed by the European Council in July is certainly welcome. Our new Government must now work to make sure Irish agriculture receives an adequate share of that money.
Finally, the EU strategies on Farm to Fork and Biodiversity will bring challenges to farmers, but if done correctly they can also bring opportunities. Farmers are the ones that know best how to achieve the goals set out in these strategies, and so we need to work closely with them to develop the best policies. Farmers must be properly paid to achieve environmental objectives, and I will work to ensure these strategies go hand-in-hand with the protection of livelihoods and rural communities.