Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan has strongly rejected claims by most political parties that the new EU restoration laws will result in farms being flooded and people being forced off the lands.
In an impassioned defence of the Regulation on Nature Restoration – which is going through the EU parliament at present – he said it would actually do the complete opposite of that.
“People are saying you are going to flood the land and force people out of farming. It’s the exact opposite, the exact opposite,” he said.
Mr Ryan argued that the new green way would enable family farms to operate profitably in the future, but in a sustainable way in which farmers would be paid premium for protecting the land. Allowing the water table to rise would be part of that new farming future, but would not result in any farmer being driven from the land, he said.
The proposed EU Nature Restoration Law would see 50 per cent of land previously drained for agriculture “rewetted” by 2030.
The Minister presented the choice as being between a family farm, and an intensive industrial type farm which was not sustainable and contributed to global warming.
Speaking to reporters at an Environmental Protection Agency conference in Dublin Castle, Mr Ryan said: “The future of farming is going in the green way. Are we going to turn our back on the green image we have? The advantage we have is in more sustainable farming. That’s the future of the Irish family farm.
“The first principle we have is we want to protect that family farm. We don’t want to go to an intensive industrial type farm system where the family farm loses out. The family farm system is the real system.
Mr Ryan said much of the commentary on the matter was not reflecting what the actual law was saying. Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said earlier this week that the vast majority of the rewetting requirements for 2030 could be achieved on State-own land, such as the bogs owned by Bord na Móna.
However, beyond 2030, Mr Ryan did not rule out that rewetting would occur on non-State owned land but framed the argument as a benefit to farming.
“My argument is that no farmer is going to be forced to do it. There will be new income here for farming and funding available for this really good farming system we can develop. That’s the opportunity.”
He said the payments would be in addition to Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) payments. He said farmers using less fertilisers would also cover some of the costs.
He said people would continue to farm the land and animals would continue to graze it. He said it would be “smart farming”, where the land was being managed well.
He said that for the Bord Bia Origin Green label to have any meaning, changes would have to take place to guarantee the food was sustainably produced. There needed to be more sustainable farming, he said, and for farmers to be paid more by agri-food companies for more sustainable produce. He said retailers and the public would not be prepared to pay a premium if the origin of their food was not truly green.