Analysis: nearly half of Irish farmers along the Atlantic coast surveyed say they have been affected already by extreme weather events

By Edel Doherty, NUI GalwaySinead Mellett, Athlone Institute of TechnologyDenis O'Hora, NUI Galway and Mary Ryan, Teagasc

International agreements such as the Paris Agreement established ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the amount of human-induced climate change. However, it is unlikely that reducing emissions will be enough and it is important that local communities learn to adapt and manage risks from challenging and changing climate conditions.

For example, communities in the Atlantic area face challenges from changing temperatures and rainfall patterns, sea level rises and the impact of extreme climate events (such as storms, flooding and droughts) that could interrupt agricultural activity. To address these challenges, the RiskAquaSoil project aims to develop a comprehensive plan to manage risks in soil and in water to improve the resilience of the Atlantic rural areas to climate change and other threats. 

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Seán Lenihan (senior engineer with Clare County Council) and Hugh McGrath (senior engineer with Limerick City and County Council) discuss floods caused by the River Shannon.

As part of this, researchers examined farmers' views on climate change in Ireland. It is important to understand their views on adaptation of rural and agricultural areas as farmers are the central decision-makers with respect to making their farm more resilient or adaptive to the effects of climate change.

The report includes findings from a national survey undertaken with 270 farmers in 2019. We asked farmers their views and concerns regarding extreme weather events. This included asking if they would be willing to employ flood measures to rivers near their lands, which could reduce the impact of flooding to downstream communities but could also increase the likelihood of on-farm flooding.

A second component of the report focuses on insurance, reflecting the interest among policy makers internationally in the role of insurance to protect against financial losses posed by extreme weather or disaster events. The report also contains findings from qualitative interviews that were also undertaken with farmers to understand from their perspective what they view as the main barriers to engaging in on-farm adaptation to climate change and potential factors that could help them engage in adaptation.

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From RTÉ Archives, Michael Walsh reports for RTÉ News on the damage caused to farms by severe flooding on the Mulcair river in Co Limerick in 1980

We found that nearly half of farms have previously been affected by extreme weather events and over one-third of Irish farmers are concerned about future extreme weather events impacting their farming activities. Farmers are most concerned about the impact of storms, droughts and flooding. Over 40% of farmers indicated they would engage in flood protection measures to protect downstream communities from flooding in return for compensation for any lost output associated with implementing these measures. Over 70% of farmers indicated a willingness to use insurance as a method to protect their farm financially against damages caused by extreme weather events.

The report found that the farmers who were interviewed felt that changing weather conditions makes it much harder to plan farming activities. They noted that advanced weather warnings did help them prepare somewhat but they felt unprepared for severe weather events. 

It is clear that agricultural advisors will play an important role in developing local solutions with farmers

The farmer is generally a micro-business and responsible for all the decision making, but farmers felt they currently lacked time and financial resources to do this. It is evident from the interviews that farmers' decision-making, like many businesses, is dominated by economic concerns. When considering employing new methods or implementing new technologies such as solar panels, for example, the relative economic cost or benefit to the farm had the strongest influence on these decisions.

The farmers also mentioned that they felt they did not have access to enough practical information on what they could do at a farm level to help them adapt. Farm networks (both informal and formal) were viewed very positively by farmers in helping them navigate regulations, learning about improved farming methods and manage their farm. It is clear that agricultural advisors will play an important role in developing local solutions with farmers.

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RTÉ Brainstorm podcast on the science behind the weather forecast and what past data about our weather can tell us about what comes next

In general, the qualitative findings suggest that farmers are most willing to undertake farm adaptation or mitigation when it is economically beneficial to do so. To help farmers engage in adaptation, additional resources, the availability of tailored information on adaptation measures for individual farms, locally-based agri-environment schemes and farm networks were mentioned by farmers as important enablers. Moreover, the highlighting of the specific and local benefits of adaptation to farmers and the intrinsic links between adaptation and farm viability, are important to engage farmers in adaptation.

Dr Edel Doherty is a Lecturer in Economics and member of the Whitaker Institute for Innovation and Societal Change at NUI Galway. Dr Sinead Mellett is a post-doctoral researcher at Athlone Institute of Technology. Dr Denis O'Hora is a lecturer and behavioural scientist in the School of Psychology at NUI Galway. He is a former Irish Research Council awardee. Dr Mary Ryan is a Researcher in Environmental Economics and Head of Rural Development Knowledge Transfer at the Rural Economy Development Programme, Teagasc.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ