Report Synopsis

A Licence to Farm - A preliminary study as to how Irish agriculture can maintain its social licence to operate

Lorcan Allen

Traditionally, the biggest challenges farmers have faced in running their businesses have been:

  • Price volatility
  • Weather
  • Access to new technology
  • FinanceRegulation
  • Adequate government support

However, a new and unprecedented threat is fast emerging that is putting the future of many farmers at risk, not just in Ireland, but across the world. Over the course of this study, this author has increasingly noticed how farmers in countries with some of the proudest agricultural heritage such as New Zealand, the UK and the Netherlands are battling a new challenge, which is societal backlash against what they do for a living.

In simple terms, farmers are losing the social licence to operate because the general public no longer trust them. It is the view of the author that farmers in many countries are losing their social licence to operate for a wide variety of reasons including:

  • Environmental impact of farming
  • Animal welfare in agriculture
  • Climate change

Effectively tackling this new challenge is difficult, particularly when set against an increasingly urbanising global population and a growing disconnect between consumers and farmers.

In Ireland, farmers and the agri-food sector are currently in an expansion phase, spurred on by the ending of EU milk quotas and the government’s Food Wise 2025 strategy. While there are economic benefits to such expansion, particularly for rural Ireland, its important Ireland’s agriculture sector is cognisant that increasing primary production on this island brings with it environmental, climate and animal welfare risks that could in turn lead to a deterioration in our farmer’s social licence to operate.

As such, Irish agriculture needs a new strategy for the years ahead that is fit for purpose and recognises the need to maintain and continuously reinforce a farmer’s social licence to operate in this country. What is clear about social licence is that it is a concept which is earned through proactive and positive actions over time that build trust between the farmer and the general public. It is also something that can be lost in a very short space of time.

To continuously reinforce and maintain the social licence to operate enjoyed up to now, a mind-set change will be required in how agriculture approaches issues, specifically around the environment, animal welfare and climate change. If this fails to happen, the risk of losing the licence to operate is real and Irish farmers could find themselves on the receiving end of public scorn

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