Methane gas, CAP, and the future of family farms were all in the mix when the Laois-Offaly general election candidates attended a debate hosted by the IFA in Rosenallis on Thursday night last.
The format of the evening - a Q&A session - proved sparse enough ground for any real sparring amongst the candidates as a range of substantive issues were raised from the floor for the candidates consideration.
The evening began with a three minute introduction from each representative, in which each staked their claim to the farming and rural vote.
From the floor David Kerr from Ballyfin got the proceedings underway with a question on the calculation of methane gas emissions. Marcella Corcoran Kennedy doubted it could be dealt with quickly, noting that it remained for 12 years in the atmosphere. Green Party candidate Pippa Hackett said it was a matter of adopting different farming practices and said that other methods should be considered, such as keeping more of it in the ground.
Caroline Farrell, of IFA's Farm Family & Social Affairs stressed the need of getting the Fair Deal Scheme over the line.
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy noted that was it at second stage in the Dail and would move quickly now. For Fine Gael it was a priority piece of legislation.
Sinn Fein's Brian Stanley said there was all party agreement on the issue.
John Fitzpatrick from Spink asked the table what environmental schemes they might adopt if in power.
Fianna Fail's Sean Fleming noted the context of climate change and that there was a period of transition underway. His proposal was to beef up agencies such as Teagasc and tax measures.
Pippa Hackett said farmers should be paid extra to keep scrub areas.
Charlie Flanagan stressed the importance of a well funded CAP. "We need to negotiate a good deal for Ireland. Part of that should involve farm gate schemes and REPS type schemes.
Brian Stanley highlighted the promotion of renewable energy and support for the organic sector.
Independent, Carol Nolan said that farmers must be incentivised while Pauline Flanagan emphasised that a lot was being done already.
Kieran McEvoy from Emo said it was time farmers stopped being treated "like criminals."
"I have been 29 years farming. I have looked after the environment. We need to wake up. We are importing grain. We are as efficient and better than most.
"We are not at a critical mass in tillage. The beef herd is being reduced. I'm a small finisher. A little bit of reality is needed not all this populist talk. We are not monsters."
Independent, John Leahy opined that environmental schemes were a smokescreen. "Farmers are getting blamed for everything," he stated.
Mary Walsh from Ratheniska bemoaned that "tillage is reduced to a few lines" in all the party manifestos. Pippa Hackett said she was supportive of a vibrant tillage sector.
Charlie Flanagan said he disagreed with Pippa Hackett and the Green Party whose policies, such as reducing the national herd, could take Irish farming "over the edge."
Let's see how the CAP negotiations go," he stated.
Ms Hackett expressed her view that many of the Government's policies had "already taken Ireland over the edge."
Henry Burns from Mountmellick said it was time to get "a sense of where we are."
He drew attention to the impact of agriculture to the rural economy.
"When the economy crashed tourism wasn't doing too good. We have very few natural resources, but we have grass. Before you go into the green you have to get out of the red.
"Every penny from the EU is a four to one multiplier in the country. We are now working for 40 per cent less than we were in 2000."
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