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New FG agriculture forum to focus on solar power’s benefits for farmers

Solar energy microgeneration on farms will be the first piece of work for a new agriculture forum set up by Fine Gael.

Eddie Downey, former IFA president and dairy, poultry, and tillage farmer, was elected chairman of Fine Gael’s national Agriculture, Food, and Rural Development Forum, having run against Pat Deering for the role.

Forum’s first AGM

Speaking at the forum’s first AGM and special conference, Mr Downey, who farms in Co Meath with his wife Mary and son Patrick, said Fine Gael needs to “connect rural Ireland, plus the agricultural sector, to the Oireachtas; and we need to connect the Oireachtas back”.

“A two-way street,” Mr Downey said.

“We’re looking at a situation at the moment where there’s a message going out there: we must do good by the climate change agenda.

“But, we also must do good by the rural agenda.

At the moment, it’s do good for climate change, but wreck rural Ireland. That’s not acceptable. 

“We can do both — we can drive on agricultural production and make a difference, and we can drive the climate change agenda in the same way.”

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Martin Heydon has proposed that the new forum’s first piece of work should be to explore the area of solar and microgeneration in agriculture, “with the aim of having a concrete policy position in place within three months”.

“The small-scale generation of energy by farmers can not only increase income streams but also represents an opportunity to lower the carbon footprint of the agricultural sector,” Mr Heydon said.

“Farmers have repeatedly stated that they are willing to play their part in decarbonising our energy system, and the issue of microgeneration has been raised with me frequently in recent weeks.

“It is emerging as one of the top agricultural issues, and I imagine it will only develop into the future.

“I believe there is a huge opportunity for farmers and rural communities to play a major role in this area.

“We must put policies and investment in place to support this.”

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