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Joint Committee on Climate Action debate -
Wednesday, 16 Oct 2019

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Climate Change and Land Use: Discussion

This session will involve an examination of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, special report on climate change and land. On behalf of the committee, I extend a warm welcome to Dr. Eamon Haughey of Trinity College Dublin. We also welcome, from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Bill Callanan, Mr. John Muldowney and Mr. Karl Coggins. Mr. John Spink from Teagasc is also welcome.

Before we commence formal proceedings, I wish to advise our guests that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I ask Dr. Eamon Haughey to make his opening statement.

Dr. Eamon Haughey

I thank the committee for inviting me to attend. It is an honour to be able to present some of the key findings from the report. In the interests of time, I will not go through this presentation in detail but I will refer to some of the graphical elements from the summary for policymakers. I will show those on the screen as I go.

The IPCC’s special report on climate change and land was approved by governments in Geneva in August 2019. It is the second of three special reports of the current IPCC assessment cycle, building on the special report on global warming of 1.5°C approved in 2018. The report was prepared under the scientific leadership of all three IPCC working groups including the task force on national greenhouse gas inventories. This came at the request of seven member governments - including Ireland, it is important to note - for a report focusing specifically on land and its interactions with climate change. The report was prepared by 107 experts from 52 countries and was the first IPCC report with a majority of authors, 53%, from developing countries.

The following is a summary of some of the key messages. Land is a critical resource upon which we all rely but it is under increasing pressure from humans and climate change. Through sustainable management, land can be an important part of the solution to climate change but land cannot do it all. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2°C.

I will now outline some of the key messages from the summary for policymakers. I should point out that this summary condenses the assessment of seven chapters of the main report and if any member of the committee wants further detail on any sections, I am happy to direct them to the right chapter.

Starting with the current situation, the report assessed key trends in terms of climate change and land use and many of these are summarised in figure SPM1. Humans affect more than 70% of the ice-free land area and a quarter of that land is already in a degraded state. In 2015, approximately 500 million people lived in areas undergoing desertification. That is an increase of 300% since 1961 and therefore one can see that the effects of climate change are exacerbating the situation.

Population growth, changes in consumption of food, feed, fibre, timber and energy have caused unprecedented rates of land and fresh water use in the past 50 years. Since 1961, cereal yields, for example, have increased by 240% globally but so too has the intensity of land use.

Over the same period, there has been an increase of approximately 800% in the rate of nitrogen fertilizer used. There has also been an increase in ruminant livestock numbers globally. Consequently, there has been an increase in both methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture – both of which are potent greenhouse gases. Agriculture, forestry and other types of land use account for 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, on the other side of the equation, natural land processes absorb almost one third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry. The report found that natural carbon sinks and their capacity to continue to store carbon are under threat from climate change and unsustainable land management. It also found that the way we produce food, what we eat, and food loss and food waste all contribute to climate change, the loss of natural ecosystems and declining biodiversity.

To move on to some of the risks assessed, the report assessed risks to human and natural systems as a function of increasing global mean surface temperature. This is shown visually in figure SPM.2 in my submission. Current levels of warming are associated with moderate risks for soil erosion, vegetation loss, coastal degradation and tropical crop yield decline. These are the risks we are already experiencing. At around 2°C of global warming, risks from permafrost degradation and food supply instabilities are projected to be very high. It is also important to consider risks as a function of trends in population and consumption. The report also did this by looking at socioeconomic pathways. It found that pathways with higher demand and lower levels of technological development are associated with higher risks of land degradation, food insecurity and desertification. Further details on pathways and how they look in terms of land use change are also provided in the report, but I will not get into that now, although I can do so if the committee would find it useful.

The report also considered what can be done, that is, solutions. This is one of the most important parts of the report. It looked at solutions in terms of integrated response options to address climate change, including mitigation, adaptation, tackling desertification and land degradation and improving food security. This is shown visually in the table, figure SPM.3. In the interests of time I will go through this quickly and focus on some of the key messages. The message is positive in that many of the response options are positive across all categories. Positive options are highlighted in blue in the submission. Many are at an advanced technology level and many can be undertaken at a relatively low cost. One message to take away is that there is much we can do right now.

The report considered the food system as a whole, that is, both demand and supply. Many response options with regard to production could be applied or upscaled in Ireland. These include improved livestock and pasture management, agricultural diversification, agroforestry, increased productivity through sustainable intensification, and increasing soil carbon. Protection of current carbon stocks and restoration of high carbon ecosystems, which are identified as response options in the table, are applicable in respect of Ireland's peatlands.

On the demand side, the report found that dietary choices present an important route to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pressures on land. Some dietary choices require more land and water and cause more greenhouse gas emissions than others. Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods and animal sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low greenhouse gas emission systems, present opportunities for adaptation and limiting the effects of climate change with coincident benefits for health. Food loss and waste is also an important issue on the demand side. The report found that between 25% and 30% of total food produced globally is lost or wasted. Reducing food loss and waste presents significant opportunities to improve food security and reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The report also found that some of the response options and their deployment could be a cause of concern. This is specifically related to the deployment of bioenergy and forestry. This needs to be done carefully to avoid negative effects on food security and biodiversity. These measures work best when they are integrated into diverse production systems and located on suitable land. In the interests of time, I will conclude at this point.

Mr. John Spink

I thank the committee for the opportunity to present Teagasc’s views on climate change and land use. I apologise for the absence of my colleagues. They would like to have been here but were unable to attend owing to a clash with the policy debate on the agrifood strategy to 2030 in the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland can grow high yields of a wide range of crop species, including grass. The Teagasc sustainability report shows that mainly tillage farms have much lower CO2 equivalent emissions per hectare than livestock systems. Based on these types of reports, it is often suggested that ruminant-based agriculture should be reduced. While there is scope to increase tillage and horticultural crop production in Ireland, where profitable, these are not particularly land hungry systems and would not displace much land from grassland-based agriculture. It is also worth noting that Irish mineral soils are estimated to contain approximately 1,800 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is roughly equal to 30 years of our total national CO2 emissions or 90 years of our agricultural emissions. A huge amount of carbon is stored in our soil. Cultivation of long-term permanent pasture can result in large emissions of CO2 from this stored carbon. It is not a simple matter of converting from pasture-based farming to crop production. Ongoing research is investigating the optimisation of land use for multiple agronomic and environmental benefits.

A large number of factors need to be considered when considering optimum land use. Not only the impact on greenhouse gas emissions, but the implications for biodiversity, water quality and economics, need to be considered. An example of these conflicts comes to the fore when considering forestry. Commercial conifer plantations offer the greatest economic return for the landowner and the highest levels of carbon sequestration, which is related to the growth rate of the trees, but greater biodiversity might be achieved by leaving the land in unimproved grassland or planting mixed native broadleaved forests.

As the chief inspector will outline, in addition to large-scale changes in land use, there is significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing farming systems through changing practices. These are identified in the Teagasc marginal abatement cost curve, MACC, which quantifies the potential scale of impact changing a given practice can have and the cost per unit of CO2 equivalent reduction. Two of the practices which can have a relatively quick impact at large scale and reasonable costs are increasing the amount of slurry applied using low emissions slurry spreading, which involves the use of a trailing shoe or hose, and increasing the proportion of nitrogen fertiliser applied as protected urea, which has the additional advantage of reducing ammonia emissions. These and the other measures included in the Teagasc MACC are being promoted by Teagasc advisers as part of a new climate change campaign and are being demonstrated in the new climate change demonstration farm initiative, which we are starting next year. The objective of this promotion is to achieve rapid uptake of these measures. In addition to this enhanced advisory activity, Teagasc has expanded its research programme relating to greenhouse gas emissions. Ongoing research is focused on identifying and validating new actions to reduce emissions or improve carbon sequestration such as reducing ruminant methane emissions, ensuring feedstocks meet sustainability standards for anaerobic digestion and increasing carbon sequestration in soils.

Mr. Bill Callanan

I thank the committee for the opportunity to address members and to highlight the ongoing work on climate action in the agrifood sector. The Department welcomes the special report on land published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, on 8 August last. This report confirms that our strategies to reduce emissions from our agrifood sector are on the correct path.

This is the second in a series of special reports to be produced by the IPCC in the sixth assessment cycle, following last year's release of the special report on global warming of 1.5°C, which adds detailed information on land-related issues, and a third report entitled, The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, which was published on 25 September 2019. This report highlights that the global food system contributes to between 21% and 37% of human generated greenhouse gas emissions, while the land biosphere acts as a sink for 30% of human generated CO2 emissions through vegetation and soil. The problem is that this land sink is vulnerable to climate change impacts, as well as other environmental and human pressures.

Furthermore, the report stressed that food production systems are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Risks related to food security are greatest in pathways with lower incomes, increased food demand and increased food prices resulting from competition for land, which generates more limited trade and other adaptation challenges. The special report on climate change and land enforces the call for urgent adoption of mitigation and adaptation actions globally, including sustainable land-related strategies. The report demonstrates the impacts, vulnerabilities and risks of further global warming to our societies and natural systems. It also highlights that balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food which is produced in resilient, sustainable and low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation, while generating significant co-benefits for human health. The message that food production is causing major global environmental risks is clear. Sustainable food production should use no additional land, safeguard biodiversity, protect water quality, reduce fertiliser pollutants, produce zero carbon dioxide emissions and cause no further increases in methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Climate change is impacting food security all over the world, as food systems are already coming under different pressures and it also has adverse effects on associated populations. We have seen this in Ireland as recent weather extremes highlighted our own food system’s vulnerabilities. The IPCC's conclusion poses a major challenge for the sector but it is simultaneously an opportunity for the Irish agrifood sector, as our production system is recognised by international independent analysis as having one of the lowest carbon footprints in the European Union. The Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO, has recognised the efficiency of our temperate grassland-based production systems. Evidence of this is further reflected in the EU Joint Research Centre report of 2010, which illustrates that while intensive dairy systems create less methane and nitrous oxide emissions than extensive ones, this is countered by higher emissions from land use and land use change. This report found that Ireland is the most carbon efficient producer per unit of dairy production in the EU, and is the fifth most carbon efficient producer of beef per kilogram. We are therefore in a good starting place due to our highly efficient farmers, coupled with a well developed research and advisory capacity and global recognition of our Origin Green objectives. However, it is clear that we need to do more to address these significant challenges. That requirement is not only regulatory but is also demanded by the market. The consumer of tomorrow is clearly asking for verifiable sustainability credentials.

The all-of-Government climate action plan was published this June and set out over 180 actions to meet Ireland’s EU targets for 2030, namely, a 30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions based on 2005 levels. This plan has set an agricultural sector target to reduce emissions from 20.2 Mt in 2017 to between 17.5 Mt and 19 Mt by 2030, which is a reduction of between 10% and 15%. Furthermore, this plan requires the sector to enhance CO2 removals from the landscape by at least 26.8 Mt CO2 equivalent, while also contributing to the development of sustainable decarbonised energy systems. The combination of both these commitments sets our ambitions in line with the carbon footprint of the sector. This will require full implementation of the actions set out in the Teagasc report, also known as the marginal abatement cost curve, MACC, coupled with increased afforestation and the appropriate management of a significant area of farmed peatland. These actions are ambitious and challenging for the sector and require early and extensive adoption of mitigation measures, particularly focusing on nitrogen use efficiency and animal breeding technologies. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will shortly launch a roadmap consultation process on how the sector will transition and achieve its CO2 equivalent reduction targets over the next decade.

The IPPC report outlines that an overall focus on sustainability, coupled with early action, offers the best chance of tackling climate change. This underlines the importance of the climate action plan and Ireland’s next agrifood strategy to 2030. As we speak, the Department is conducting a public engagement with more than 400 attendees on developing its next strategy to 2030. Economically viable and sustainable production is at the heart of this process. This strategy will be instrumental in providing a framework for the sustainable growth of the sector. As with all strategic plans, it must evolve and respond to rapidly changing circumstances. In addition, the Department has commenced the process of developing its strategic plan for the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and climate delivery will be a key component of this. However, the CAP and strengthened regulation will not be enough. Industry will need to step up and collaborate to drive innovation and adoption of best practice to ensure the agriculture sector plays its part. We have already commenced this journey with the nitrates derogation review of 2019, which recommended tighter measures aimed at further strengthening the protection of water and attaining optimum soil fertility that are consistent with efficient agricultural production, effective water and air quality and delivery of our climate ambitions. The greater focus on improving nitrogen use efficiencies on intensive farms will provide additional environmental protection.

While acknowledging that the agriculture sector produces emissions, the sector should also be seen as part of the solution to our transition to a low carbon, climate resilient economy and society. Considerable opportunities exist within the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors to address climate change while providing many co-benefits to society. Unlike other sectors, no one-off technological fixes can be applied. Mitigation requires the sustained application of improved management practices by farmers over time. Some land use mitigation responses, such as the conservation of peatlands, wetlands and forestry, have relatively immediate impacts. Others, such as afforestation and restoration of high carbon soils, will take longer to deliver.

As part of a special allocation of €3 million in the recent budget to fund additional pilot projects aimed specifically at climate measures in agriculture, a call for a new pilot European innovation partnership project on reduced management of farmed peatlands will be announced in due course. This is designed to increase carbon sequestration and contribute to meeting our commitments as part of the Government's climate action plan. It will also enhance the protection of biodiversity and water quality and provide a template for action in advance of Ireland's next Common Agricultural Policy.

The latest research from Teagasc identified significant additional abatement potential for the sector. Agriculture can potentially make major contributions to meeting renewable energy targets, although this mitigation effort comes at a cost. If we are to achieve these ambitions for the sector, it is important to continue to incentivise positive action through our afforestation programme and a well funded and appropriately configured Common Agricultural Policy. We have already been doing much with the current Common Agricultural Policy by supporting farmers to deliver environmental dividends through agri-environment schemes. We are operating several schemes to ensure the sustainable use of land, the maintenance of natural resources and the limiting of climate change. We have provided a number of statistics on that which I do not need to repeat.

Ireland welcomes the proposal that 40% of the CAP budget post 2020 will contribute to climate action. This approach aligns well with the advice of the Citizens’ Assembly, which recommended that farmers be rewarded for good environmental practices. These provisions will enable us to continue on our path towards carbon neutrality by promoting sustainable intensification of food production and maintaining a vibrant rural economy. This will require collaborative action. There are also challenges regarding food waste, as the EU requires us to reduce food waste by 50% per capita.

It is important to remember that Irish agricultural production is recognised by international independent analysis as having one of the lowest carbon footprints. The efficiency of Ireland’s temperate grassland-based production systems is also recognised. We will continue to work at building consensus around the need for the agriculture sector to make a positive contribution to climate action. This is about getting better, not just bigger, and focusing on productivity and efficiencies rather than numbers.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine fully agrees with the finding of the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, that land is under growing human pressure. Land has a lot to contribute to ensuring the agreement is met but it cannot do everything.

I thank the witness. I will start with Dr. Haughey. He indicated in his presentation that dietary choice has the capacity to help with CO2 emissions. That follows from the IPCC report. Am I right in saying it does not propose a ban on meat consumption, but rather calls for animals to be produced in a less greenhouse gas-intensive manner and for diets to be more inclusive of grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds? Could Dr. Haughey go into more detail on that? The overarching concern here in Ireland is our reliance on the agricultural sector.

Turning to the representatives of the Department, I refer to the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. That will be a huge incentive to help farmers make that transition. Could Mr. Callanan expand on the schemes the Department would like to see? I know some schemes are currently in place. Could Mr. Callanan expand on measures that would be helpful for farmers in making this transition?

Dr. Eamon Haughey

The Chair has raised one of the report's key findings. Interestingly, the authors looked at the food system as a whole, including both the demand and the supply side. Previously a lot of efficiency work took place on the production side, which is very efficient here in Ireland. There was less work on the demand side. The message from the IPCC was very clearly and carefully worded. It suggests moving towards a plant-based diet, but its suggestions include animal products produced with low levels of greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable and resilient systems. The report definitely does not state that one should not eat meat. The IPCC provides advice. It does not tell people or governments what to do. There is certainly a place for meat consumption. However if one was to change one's diet to reduce its carbon footprint, reducing consumption of animal-sourced protein would have the biggest effect. That is what the report found.

If we continue to consume meat, the best thing we can do is ensure it comes from a system with a low greenhouse gas footprint such as a grassland-based system. Systems with low external inputs tend to be the most efficient. Our grazing system is efficient because the animals are at pasture for most of the year. Inputs from external sources, such as protein, are low in comparison with systems where the feed is grown somewhere else and then brought to the animals indoors. In that regard we are in a good position but there is no doubt that if dietary change is to make a contribution globally, consumption of animal-sourced foods must decrease. This is difficult for Ireland but we are in a good starting position.

I thank Dr. Haughey. I wish to ask Mr. Callanan about the CAP. What schemes will be needed to bring farmers on board to reach our targets in this transition?

Mr. Bill Callanan

I am somewhat limited in what I can say. At the moment the process is at a very consultative stage. The Minister has set up a consultative committee which includes other Departments, various stakeholders etc. to inform the development of our strategic plan. At the same time we are holding several public meetings. I cannot pre-empt what will come from them. The best way I can articulate the evolution that is taking place is to refer to the agri-environment schemes of several years ago, such as the rural environment protection scheme, REPS. That scheme pertained to the whole farm but the actions represented a light touch. The next iteration of the rural development programme included the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, which encouraged farmers to take the right actions in a more detailed way. The current iteration of GLAS concerns taking the right actions in the right locations. We are using resources like the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, map of high-status water quality as a selection tool to prioritising entry to the scheme. We then make prescriptions for water quality in those specific areas. All I can say about the process is that CAP expenditure is increasingly targeted and focused. That will naturally evolve in the next round.

Under the most recent iteration of GLAS we have helped to plant more than 1,200 km of new hedges. Some 4,500 farmers have been supported in using low-emission slurry equipment. We have supported 270,000 ha of low-input permanent pasture. This is the type of action that is conducive to the delivery of carbon ambitions. We will have to grow and develop on these gains. About 2,500 farmers have applied for structural funding grants to purchase low-emission equipment. That is also indicative of our support for farmers implementing the actions within the Teagasc marginal abatement cost curve, MACC.

At the same time we have carried out a review of derogation farmers. Those are the more intensive farmers and represent a sector which has grown in size. We went through a public consultation to ask what more they could contribute. One of the measures that has come out of that is earlier use of trailing shoe technology as a mandatory requirement for those farmers. From April 2020 about a third of the slurry in the country will be applied using trailing shoe technology, which is a major advance towards our objectives concerning both ammonia and climate change.

The cost of the required equipment often presents an issue.

Mr. Bill Callanan


Are there solutions for farmers who cannot afford this, such as leasing?

Mr. Bill Callanan

We will strike a reasonable balance between the regulatory requirements on more intensive farmers and incentivising less intensive farmers.

I invite the witnesses to pick up on the final point made by Mr. Callanan concerning the trailing shoe. That is welcomed and it is the right direction. I will not open old wounds, but we have had the argument about extensions on slurry spreading. From a water quality point of view it is totally contradictory that farmers have to farm by calendar and are forced to have the slurry out by Tuesday on saturated ground when spreading slurry during a dry spell, by trailing shoe or a splash plate, will not cause nearly as much environmental damage. We have to stick adamantly to calendar dates. Let us look at the big picture here. We are trying to use the most environmentally friendly methods. Is it not imperative that we will have some flexibility in the process and procedures to get the best outcome in the interests of the environment?

I have a couple of questions about our previous report. That called for the Department to undertake a review of the management and import of nitrogen fertilisers. Has that commenced? What stage has it reached?

I also wish to direct a question to Teagasc and the Department. I will not go into specifics but based on all the aforementioned we are all on the same page. What, if any, changes have been made to the curriculum in agricultural colleges with a view to training young farmers for the future, that is, for the necessary changes and diversifications Teagasc has identified? Has there been any change in the curriculum in the agricultural college since this debate commenced?

I would also like to know what actions and timelines the Department has set and what incentives it is using to encourage the agricultural fraternity to undertake the 28 measures in Teagasc's mitigation pathway. Is this being discussed? It seems that the agricultural sector as a whole, including both the representative bodies and the Department, has accepted the pathway. What progress has been made in selling that to the farmers to get uptake from them? I may have supplementary questions based on the answers.

Mr. Bill Callanan

I missed the second question, which came after the question on flexibility and before the question on curriculum change.

Our committee recommended that the Department undertake a review of nitrogen fertiliser imports. I would like to know what stage that has reached.

Mr. Bill Callanan

Regarding flexibility, the first fundamental principle is that slurry must be considered a fertiliser. From the agricultural catchments programme, which we have supported and Teagasc has implemented over many years, the evidence is quite clear that the greatest loss of nutrient occurs with the application of slurry over the winter period.

To put it in context, before the nitrates regulations, and I have been there from the beginning, less than 5% of slurries were spread at that time of the year. We seem to be fixated on that, although it is a relatively modest volume.

Second, in terms of fertiliser value, a typical four-bay double-sided shed, which every farmer would understand, has about €1,000 worth of fertiliser. The inherent difficulty with applications towards the back end is that one has to ask whether somebody would go out and buy €1,000 worth of fertiliser and spread it on this day of the year, and the answer is generally "No". We have brought up this issue of calendar farming and we discussed it with the Commission at one stage in regard to the question of flexibility. The Commission was quite clear in its direction to us that if one wants to consider flexibility, one has to recognise it cuts both ways, and that could result in the increasing of the closed period instead of decreasing it, if that is what people want. That requires more concrete action. Basically, people have to increase their storage requirement if that is the approach they want to take.

I would caution farmers in general. When we explained to them the reality of the closed period and seeking flexibility, and how it is going to increase if the weather conditions are not right, which would mean farmers have to construct additional storage to cover that, it becomes a more focused conversation.

We structurally changed the system to allow dairy farmers to spread soiled water during winter and to dilute it. However, we still seem to have a problem where farmers are not using as much slurry as they can in the springtime and the summer, which is more ideal than autumn spreading, because, when the growth is not there, they are not getting a return on the fertiliser. The evidence is clear that the spreading of slurry during the winter months leads to higher nutrient loss. I must also confirm that the nitrates regulations are under the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, although we give a lot of assistance.

We must also reflect on the fact that our nutrient load has been increasing. Our fertiliser usage in the past three years has been growing and, at the same time, our water quality has been diminishing. We are about 3% down in terms of water quality over the last reporting period and while we do not have data for the most recent couple of years, we do not expect that this trend has been reversed. People have to reflect on that. While I appreciate fully that it is a frustration for farmers, we have to recognise that, within our climate change objectives, we see slurry as a fertiliser best used with the likes of trailing shoe technology and at the most appropriate time of year.

Nutrient value aside, it was water quality that I was coming at. If, for whatever reason, there is a percentage of farmers who have to put it out and who were forced to put it out before Tuesday, when the ground was saturated, that is not helping water quality. That is the argument I am making.

Mr. Bill Callanan

The objective of somebody who is spreading slurry at this time of year is that they are managing their tanks, they are not managing their slurry. That is the unfortunate reality. If farmers have to apply at this time of the year to empty their tanks, they are invariably just managing the capacity for the winter ahead, whereas we would see slurry as a particularly important and valuable nutrient. It is recognised by the vast majority of farmers as such and they try to optimise the use of the slurry in terms of their system. That generally requires application in springtime or early summer, and certainly not at this time of year.

I am not arguing that point. However, as they say, doctors differ and patients die. There will be people who are caught and we are forcing them to put it out on saturated land, which is the reason our water quality is dropping.

Mr. Bill Callanan

I have tried to answer it as best I can in terms of the challenge. With regard to nitrogen fertiliser, we track our fertiliser usage and that is important in that it is a contributor to our overall emissions from the sector. We want to see optimisation of that. The Teagasc marginal abatement cost, MAC, curve identifies the benefit of things like protected ureas. We have engaged with industry in terms of a movement towards protected ureas into the future, and we see that as important.

On the uptake of the 28 measures, we see these as key. The Department will be publishing a roadmap in terms of its delivery of actions that we have committed to within the climate change plan. This has been the focal point in regard to the discussions around CAP and how we get the balance right between regulating and incentivising, through measures such as CAP, the delivery of these actions. It certainly is front and centre in terms of the departmental thinking on that issue.

By way of example, we have a dairy sustainability initiative where all of the stakeholders get around the table to discuss how the dairy industry can grow and develop but, at the same time, contribute to its environmental objectives. Out of that came a very positive project where the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has put ten advisers on the ground, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is committing ten advisers, and Teagasc is implementing that. At the same time, industry is putting in ten advisers to work with farmers in areas of vulnerability in terms of water quality. We see this as important collaboration between the dairy industry and the two Departments towards the achievement of sustainability, and, naturally, that has benefits in terms of climate as well. We are very interested in that engagement between industry and Government in regard to the delivery of those actions.

I will leave the issue of curriculum change to Teagasc.

Mr. John Spink

On curriculum change in regard to the MAC measures, forestry has been a part of the green cert since September 2018, so that is covering off the forestry side. In terms of the curriculum more generally, we have produced guidelines for all of the Teagasc farms, including the college farms, whereby they must be managed using practices such as protected urea and trailing shoes in regard to climate change, but also broader sustainability in regard to things like hedgerow management. All of our farms, including college farms, will be managed in that way so it will be an inherent part of the curriculum. When students come into the colleges, they will be seeing in practice the things we are recommending.

A further part of the question concerns what we are doing in terms of promoting the uptake of the MAC or the actions within the MAC. All of the actions within the MAC are being incorporated into our standard advice. All of our dairy specialists and livestock specialists, through in-service training, are being brought up to date with the measures in the MAC and issues such as protected urea. The advice that comes out from next spring on fertiliser use will all be in line with the MAC. In 2020, we will also be setting up a network of climate change demonstration farms around the country so farmers can see first-hand some of these practices actually taking place.

How do we bring the percentage of farmers who are not subscribers to Teagasc along with this?

Mr. John Spink

The climate change demonstration farms will be open to everyone, as are all of our open days and events. Any farmer, whether a Teagasc client or not, can go along to those.

Mr. John Muldowney

With regard to training, all farm advisers will be trained up in the range of MAC measures so they are fully understood. With regard to the timelines, as Mr. Callanan mentioned, we will be publishing a climate roadmap for public consultation and this will help to guide that rate of uptake, and the where, the how and the who in terms of implementation of those actions, as well as how best to achieve mobilisation of the highest possible levels of uptake. That will be coming out shortly to help inform the debate.

I have a question on food waste, which links back to education. What role have the Department and Teagasc to play in trying to minimise food waste? Most of the proposals, suggestions and mooted solutions I have heard are all about reduction. If we take population growth into consideration, by 2050 we will need to double food production from its current levels, although not too many people mention that in the deliberations. How are we going to get that increase when the buzzword seems to be reduction?

That is to take into account population increase, the increase in demand and food waste.

Including taking into consideration food waste going forward. If 25% to 30% of all food produced is waste and we have to feed the growing population, this means that if we double our production, there will be a doubling of the waste.

What consideration has been given to that?

Mr. John Muldowney

I will not claim to be an expert on the food waste side of things, but we can get back to the Senator with some material on that. There is Bord Bia's Food Dudes programme, which encourages good practice among kids in respect of food. The Senator raises a very important point about the discussion surrounding agriculture and climate. The European Council conclusions as well as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report recognise the inherent challenge in our having to balance the demands on agriculture with the necessity of food production. The Council conclusions recognise that these are intrinsically linked. So does our national policy, which is an approach to carbon neutrality that does not negatively impact food production. We have a responsibility in this regard, as Senator Daly said. The figure we work off is the requirement to increase investment in agriculture for food by at least 60% by 2050. We must contribute to that environment but must equally contribute to the national ambitions. That is why the balance between reducing our own footprint and committing to carbon removal through sequestration, be it afforestation or management of peatlands, etc., is critical. This is the reason for the €3 million that has been assigned to the Department to carry out pilot projects in respect of carbon removal, which will include at its forefront peatland management measures. These projects are critical to striking the balance between food and carbon removal and delivering on both objectives.

We will have to move on. I call Deputy Corcoran Kennedy.

I thank all the witnesses for their contributions. I have a question about the IPCC and the awful scenes we saw of the forest fires in the Amazon and the horrendous damage being done there. That can be contrasted with the significant efforts we are now making here to tackle climate change. I think there has been broad acceptance in recent years that the climate is changing. We had a very big problem previously with climate deniers. How do the witnesses perceive a global effort being made? Is it possible? As I said, contrasting our little country of 6 million people with what is happening in the Amazon, people rightfully ask, no matter what we do, whether it will make a difference. While we know we need to make an effort, it is very challenging to get that message out to people.

Has the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine made any progress on an anaerobic digestion strategy? We hear that it is the way to go and will be a good solution for farmers - some anyway - yet we have heard some negative feedback from certain areas. Will the Department brief us on any progress that might be made on this? Has the Department made any progress on a response to the IPCC special report on climate change and land?

Has Teagasc carried out any research on the use of rewetted peatlands? We mentioned paludiculture, which - the Teagasc representatives do not need me to tell them this - is the productive use of wetlands in the growing of plants of one sort or another, particularly for biomass. Do they have anything to say on that?

My other question for Teagasc concerns the tree planting targets. I think I read somewhere that we will have to plant 250 million trees. If we are to try to achieve that, how will we convince members of the farming community, who take pride in their land, especially if they have very good land, arable land, to plant trees? That is an awful lot of trees across our small landmass, bearing in mind that 20% of it is peatland.

Mr. Bill Callanan

I will start with the question about anaerobic digestion, AD. As far as progress on it is concerned, we have committed to supporting the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on AD because that Department is the main driver on it. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine sees it as inherently valuable to the overall contribution. We must recognise where it might fit in, which would be particularly around biomethane because the transport fuel alternatives are quite limited.

Let us be honest. There are political decisions to be made as to how to manage the cost differential. I discussed this recently with Gas Networks Ireland, representatives of which were before the Joint Committee on Climate Action and Environment yesterday. I spoke to Denis O'Sullivan quite recently about this and met Ervia to discuss it as well. Somebody will have to resolve the issue of pricing and how this is supported. The current gas price is approximately 2.5 cent per kilowatt hour, whereas biogas is 8.5 cent and biomethane is approximately 11 cent. That is quite a substantial differential that has to be filled. How that is done is a matter for another Department, but this Department sees that there are viable uses of animal manures and for a certain amount of grass into that system. From our perspective, however, we must resolve the issue of compliance with the sustainability criteria. Then one must get good yields with very little nitrogen input. These are just the rule requirements. I think Teagasc has commenced a project on how this can be achieved. It has also set up a small biogas plant in Grange to investigate this. That is the position in respect of AD. We see it as valuable but it is very costly, and that must be resolved in advance of any major progression of it.

Deputy Corcoran Kennedy asked about the IPCC.

Does Dr. Haughey wish to take that question?

Dr. Eamon Haughey

Sure. There are a few points to be made. I will roll back a wee bit to the 1.5°C report that came out last year. It set the scene for the urgency required and the transformation we need of global energy and land systems. To put this in context, the report considered what the land sector could contribute globally. As for limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, we need an increase in forestation of 3.4 million sq. km. That is more than the size of India. That gives just an idea of the transformative action we need by 2050 to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. That is just to put it in context with forestry. It is important.

What we have seen in the Amazon is very shocking and sad and is obviously undoing much of the good work being done globally. It also highlights one of the dangers associated with both increased levels of warming and the limitations of natural solutions. As the temperature increases, this assessment shows that risk of wildfires, for example, will increase. If we go to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the risk will increase. If we go to 3°C, it will increase even more. Those carbon stores in forests will then be more vulnerable. The other side of it is management. One can store carbon in forests, but that is potentially vulnerable to future mismanagement, so there is always that risk that the good work can be undone.

Bringing it back to Ireland, there is another question over the level of afforestation. I will not go into that as it is not my area, but it is worth noting that we have a massive amount of carbon stored in our peatlands. In a way, they are our equivalent of the Amazon rainforests. That is a crude comparison but it is one that can be made. How we manage this is something we can act on now in the context of conservation and possibly restoration of some of those lands.

Mr. John Muldowney

Regarding the engagement with the IPCC special report, it is important to recognise that Ireland was pivotal to having the report done. It is one of three special reports that has been done by the IPCC in its sixth assessment cycle. Ireland had a key role in suggesting that it be done, and it was agreed by the IPCC bureau in that regard. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine engages and collaborates very strongly with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in how we engage with the IPCC and the UNFCCC and the international meetings on climate change.

We are happy to continue on that.

Some of Dr. Haughey's work would be key to informing some of the gaps and opportunities that exist for Irish research to try to engage and address what sort of enhancements and better understanding we need to do around soil carbon pools, the fluxes that are around that in the changing climate, and how we work to develop better farm practice in terms of trying to protect those soil carbon pools. There is a coherent piece working between the EPA and ourselves and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in this space. We will be maintaining this as time goes on to ensure this is well represented.

We are looking forward to having this special report on agriculture and climate discussed at COP 25 in Chile later this year. That is one of the important things we would see. It is also important in the UNFCCC that there is an agenda item on issues relating to agriculture. That will be concluding in COP 26 in the UK next year. This is a work in progress and a number of the workshops that have been going on over the past two years in this space are primarily on some of the actions that are being recommended here around neutral management planning, better afforestation, and line management practice. All the same issues are coming back but the question is how to get greater and quicker uptake of these actions than we have been seeing to date. There is a big piece as to how we engage on the behavioural aspect.

Mr. John Spink

On anaerobic digestion, AD, Mr. Callanan mentioned that we were starting some work. For biogas or electricity from AD to be classed as a renewable fuel, it has to meet certain sustainability criteria. One of those is a 70% reduction in energy costs compared with the alternative. That is work we are starting now, looking at how we can sustainably produce effectively from grassland feedstocks that will meet the sustainability criteria. If we do not meet them, it is not really worth investing in AD in the first place. In terms of the rewetted peatlands and paludiculture, I am not aware of any research we are doing in that area currently.

It was a recommendation in the report this committee produced. I was just wondering if it was something Teagasc was looking at.

Mr. John Spink

I am not aware that we are but that is not to say that I do not have a colleague somewhere who is working on it. The Deputy mentioned the tree planting targets. The Department funds my colleagues in the forestry department in Teagasc in terms of a forestry promotion campaign, and they are very actively involved in providing technical information to the industry in respect of forestry. Mr. Coggins might be better placed to discuss that.

Mr. Karl Coggins

On the number of trees planted in the forestry programme, since 1 January 2015, we have planted about 42 million individual trees, and so far in 2019, we have planted about 8 million, so 250 million trees is a really achievable target. In terms of encouraging landowners and farmers in particular to plant, the Department has been especially active in the area of promotion. That includes funding Teagasc to develop a curriculum for the green certificate that was mentioned earlier. We also funded 15 individual promotion projects throughout the country, increasing awareness among the public of the multifunctional benefits of forestry as well as encouraging afforestation among farmers.

In terms of a strategy, the Department very much encourages the farm forestry approach where it is not so much about forestry or farming but rather about forestry and farming working together. We can see from the national farm survey that a significant number of farms could plant some land with trees while maintaining herd number. That would create a valuable asset both economically and environmentally by planting trees. Under the current forestry programme, we will continue to offer generous grants that cover 100% of the establishment costs of afforestation as well as the premium payments that we pay each year for 15 years up to €680 per hectare.

On slurry spreading, I heard what Mr. Callanan said about it being calendar based as opposed to based on weather conditions. There is a point in what he is saying which is understood. The problem arises when we have a wet autumn like this one and cattle are moved off the land a lot earlier. This year there is late grass but ground conditions are getting very bad. We could have a different type of autumn where it is colder with less grass but is still very wet. The cattle are going in early. We have seen it happen over the Christmas period or the period directly after Christmas that there is a dry spell and then, lo and behold, come the middle of January when it is time to go and spread, there are downpours again. That is the problem. It is not an easy one. Mr. Callanan referred to capacity, and I understand that, but it is very hard in terms of management for some farmers to work that. If cattle are brought in quickly and they are standing on slatted units, if they are there earlier than expected, we get to January, the date comes for spreading and better days may have passed in the week or two previous to that. I just want to raise that point.

I would also like the Department officials to deal with the issue of the derogation on pig slurry. My recollection is that we sought an extension of the derogation on spreading pig slurry about a year ago. I am open to correction on all of this. Where stands that? The number of units in the country has dropped but the units have got bigger. There is a particular problem with how we manage the slurry from those units. The IFA and others were worried about it a year or two ago and there was a derogation sought at that point. How can that be moved to a more sustainable basis?

My other question for the Department is about forestry. I am pleased to hear Mr. Coggins talk about farming and forestry. That has been a big bone of contention. I represent Laois-Offaly. In the Slieve Blooms there has been concern about forestry replacing farming. There is a particular problem in Leitrim, as I know from my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny. Driving around Leitrim, we can see it happening, particularly with the widespread monocultural plantations of spruce.

In the context of the coming Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reforms and the new CAP programme, is the Department developing proposals around having sustainable hedgerows such that farmers are rewarded for maintaining bulky, high hedgerows? They are one of the great sources of habitat and are very important for drainage and shelter. The people who planted them understood this hundreds of years ago but somewhere along the line the human race got so clever that we decided that what those people thought did not matter and we should just get the hedgerows out of the way. Teagasc advisers at one stage - I am not particularly having a go at Mr. Spink here - were saying to people to push them out of the way, and we closed up drains and moved those natural barriers out of the way. We took away habitats. Now we have to use more chemicals to spray the crops because there are no habitats to keep the little fellows happy, to keep the insects that are attacking crops under control. Is there a move in the Department to come up with specific proposals regarding sustainable hedgerows? I know there is a programme for planting more hedgerows, which is good.

I want to bring this to the officials' attention because I say this to the county councils the whole time. The county councils are allowing widespread destruction of hedgerows. In the conditions of planning permission for building a house, I cannot see why we do not require people to maintain the hedgerow in front of their house. Many people like showing off, so they want to bulldoze the hedgerows, or ditches as we call them down our way, out of the way and put up a bloody wooden palisade fence so everybody can see their house. We should be doing more to try to protect the hedgerows.

I will move on to Teagasc.

Some would say that the ship has sailed on beet production. I am not a soil expert but the witnesses are. Sugar beet was grown extensively in my part of the world. When sugar beet was being grown, whatever crop was sowed on the same land after sugar beet there was a great yield the following year. Sugar beet was a great rotation crop and it provided ground cover for six months of the year. I have often seen beet harvested right up to Christmas so the fields were covered for six months and, therefore, the crop has great potential for sequestration. Beet Ireland is a group that tried to regenerate interest in beet production but it has postponed such plans. Has research into beet production ceased? Has beet production been completely forgotten about? I firmly believe that soil quality and the environment are poorer without beet production. Also, farmers are poorer because beet production generated a handy cash crop, particularly after Christmas when there was not much else. Beet tops were also fed to cattle. We did not need as many slatted sheds because one could allow cattle and sheep to graze on the beet tops that remained after beet was harvested.

I have read reports that this country imports 90% of its vegetables. I know we cannot grow avocados. I would love if we could grow avocados, grapes and a whole lot of other varieties but we can grow a lot of vegetables. I have not got a sense from mainstream farming and the farming bodies that there is a great desire or shift in mindset. The carbon miles on what we eat in this country are unnecessary. Some people in vegetable production have said that we can grow 75% of our imports of fruit and vegetables. I ask the delegation to deal with that issue also.

I have one last question for Teagasc. Mr. Spink said in his statement that "commercial conifer plantations offer the greatest economic return for the landowner and the highest levels of carbon sequestration, which is related to the growth rate". He means that conifers grow very quickly so there is carbon sequestration. I contend that the practice clears the forest floor, kills all known germs and everything underneath, including animals, plant life and everything else. The practice also causes pollution in terms of water quality. Should we not move from monoculture conifer plantations to more sustainable forestry and put a premium on varieties that carry over from one generation to the next?

Mr. John Spink

The Deputy mentioned hedgerows.

Mr. John Spink

The Deputy directed his question on hedgerows to the Department officials.

Mr. John Spink

Teagasc has organised a hedgerow week that will be launched next Monday at the Teagasc college in Kildalton. The Deputy's question concerned carbon sequestration. I am not aware at the minute that we have a way to quantify how much carbon is sequestered by hedges but I am talking to my Teagasc colleagues in the environment research unit at Johnstown Castle about starting to do some work on the issue.

The next issue was sugar beet. We do not currently do any research on sugar beet. We did a small amount of work when Beet Ireland developed its plans. Part of our work was on how much the yield potential of new beet varieties had increased since sugar beet was last grown here. The work was part-funded by the Irish Farmers Association. Our work showed that there had been an increase in the yield potential of beet since the industry closed. At present we do not have a programme because there is no market. As far as I am aware, Beet Ireland has shelved its plans. However, we recognise the value of beet production in crop rotation and the value of break crops in crop rotation. For the last few years, we have conducted a large programme on break crops and analysed the benefit of beans and oilseed rape in animal feed. Initially, the research was funded by the IFA and we have recruited a permanent researcher to work in that area. We recognise the value of crop rotation and how non-cereal crops greatly benefit cereal crops.

The Deputy made a point about horticulture and he is right. As I have mentioned, there is scope to significantly increase our horticultural production. It is not a particularly land hungry enterprise and, therefore, it will not replace the thousands of acres of grassland currently used for livestock production. There is potential to significantly increase our production if it is found to be economically viable to do so.

There was another issue and it is not an area in which I am expert. The Deputy mentioned avocados. Members of the public are no longer used to eating seasonal vegetables. People want to eat avocados on Christmas Day as well as in the middle of the summer. Our domestic production is seasonal so we will not necessarily be able to replace everything that we import.

The Deputy made a final point about forestry, which I might start to reply to but my colleague, Mr. Coggins, might finish answering. The Deputy made a few points about conifers and their impact on water quality. At present we are harvesting forests that were planted between 25 and 30 years ago. The rules and regulations for forestry have dramatically changed in the intervening period. One now needs 30% of broadleaves when establishing a new forest and there are setbacks from rivers, houses and things. One might have forests there now that are planted right up to the edge of a stream and are being harvested, which is causing pollution problems. That is no longer the case and Mr. Coggins might have more detail on the matter.

Mr. Karl Coggins

When people consider mature forests they do not look great from a biodiversity point of view. The forests that are being planted now are completely different. We have learned an awful lot about designing forests. To be eligible for grants and premiums, under the afforestation scheme, one must plant 15% broadleaves. There are certain setbacks from watercourses that have been set down in an environmental requirements document that was launched a number of years ago. If areas for planting have rich habitats then the Department will pay for the areas to be retained as areas of biodiversity enhancement. The highest grants and premiums that the Department pays are for the retention of broadleaf plantations and in the recent mid-term review we increased those rates. Mr. Spink mentioned that the target for broadleaf planting is 30%. The percentage was in the region of 19% at the beginning of the forestry programme and we hit 27% last year and the higher rates that we introduced contributed to that.

Earlier Mr. Callanan mentioned the dairy sustainability initiative. The planting of native woodlands and riparian zones are a solution that is offered to protect sensitive waterways as part of those measures.

Mr. Bill Callanan

In terms of slurry spreading, I have articulated the challenge as best as I could but I will make an additional comment. The Commission has been very clear that if we continue to give derogations and flexibility in terms of the closed period it will think that we have a problem with storage capacity. People must recognise that. Deputy Stanley's constituency has 16 weeks storage but all adjoining countries have substantially higher storage capacity. A challenge for is the balance of being honest with farmers by saying, yes, it might suit a small number to be flexible on the practice but it will come at a cost to a vast majority of farmers if we continually move towards granting that. I appreciate what was said about the January window. Often people say that the weather was great and it is dry, the ground is frosty and they could have gone out. There are two conditions if one wants to treat slurry as a fertiliser. Yes, one must have ground conditions that suit the application of slurry. Equally, one must have growth conditions that suit its uptake. Certainly one does not get the growth in January to take up the nutrient if it is applied.

That is not in keeping with what is clearly set down in the overall policy, which is slurry as a fertiliser-nutrient, not a waste, and to apply it at best timing. Those are the messages we are giving farmers.

On the derogation for pig farmers, the nitrates directive introduced in 2006 provided that the land area requirements for the spreading of the slurries that were already there would have to be quadrupled because people were spreading at a higher level than crop uptake was allowing for. While it was not exactly a derogation, a concession was granted for pig slurry which diluted the phosphorus content. A doubling of the spread lands required was allowed for. We negotiated around 2008 or 2010 a ten-year glide path to full compliance with nutrient loading. That period has now elapsed. The pig sector is now complying fully with the requirement that the application of nutrients in slurries be absolutely appropriate to the crop need that it is being applied to. That issue has been largely dealt with in regard to compliance.

On the sugar beet industry, I agree that sugar beet was a very valuable break crop but particular challenges arose with it, especially with regard to the price of sugar. The same situation arises at the moment. The programme for Government includes a commitment by State agencies to look at viable submissions on the re-emergence of a sugar beet industry. As Mr. Spink has said, no such proposal has come forward. One can see the logic in that as sugar prices are poor and the application of sugar taxes has reduced demand for sugar. While yields here had improved, they would not be equivalent to the yields that can be achieved in continental sugar beet production or sugar cane production. From our perspective, we have not had a viable proposal put before us on it.

On horticulture, the Deputy is entirely correct, we are not best suited to certain agricultural production, for example, avocados, pineapples and bananas. However, there is a significant amount of field vegetables that could be displaced. We have a well funded €6 million annual investment in the horticultural industry. We also have the producer organisation, PO, which aggregates multiple producers to give them clout when dealing with supermarket purchasers. We have a very strong history in that regard on the mushroom side where we have had a strong PO for some years. We have constructively engaged with industry, through the horticultural industry forum, to try to encourage greater use of producer organisations which, as in the case of beef, bring growers together. We are comfortable that this engagement is having some success. People are willing to engage with the process because they can draw down additional support at EU level through producer organisations. This can be used for marketing, professionalising supply and achieving the scale that is necessary to deal with the supermarkets on an equal rather than a small supplier footing.

I thank Mr. Callanan for his answers. To clarify one matter, I asked the question on sugar beet in the context of by-products such as bioethanol. In the past, we simply extracted sugar from the crop. I understand the position as I have met Beet Ireland several times.

Is Teagasc doing extensive research on trying to ramp up vegetable production? Is that a very active programme?

Mr. John Spink

Horticulture is one of the smaller programmes in Teagasc. We are in the process of recruiting an extra researcher who will focus on production systems.

Mr. Bill Callanan

Teagasc has made an investment of approximately €1.5 million in the Ashtown facility on horticulture in the past year. This was reported in its annual report published during the week.

Deputy Stanley has touched on some of the issues I will raise. I will group my questions and then ask one follow-up question on a different issue.

Perhaps Dr. Haughey will respond on the nitrates issue as we have heard mainly from the Department. In the IPCC report, one of the most significant changes in land use in the past 50 years has been the 800% increase in the use of nitrates. I understand the graph had to be amended to show this. I ask Dr. Haughey to explain how urgent it is to address that issue at global level. This is a huge outlier and one of the major interventions. The increase in the use of nitrates has been more than four times higher than increases or changes in any other single area. I will not ask Mr Callanan to outline again the various ameliorating measures. Is there a timeline or pathway for Ireland moving away from seeking a derogation from aspects of the nitrates regulation? We are negotiating derogations from various measures. Mr. Callanan mentioned that we had a ten-year derogation in the area of pig slurry which has expired. In general, what is the timeline for moving away from our position of seeking derogations from the nitrates directive?

Peatlands have been identified as one of the core means by which we can store carbon. I will not delve into the regressive step of de-designating natural heritage areas, which is being debated in the Seanad. Are there plans to restore some of the peatlands that are not in natural heritage areas and that have been drained for agricultural or forestry use? If so, what is the scale of such restoration to the peatland and carbon sequestration function? Rewetting might also be an issue for Teagasc to address, including the question of how rewetting projects can be accelerated.

Another issue that has been brought to my attention, which was touched on in relation to forestry, is the link between the ecological and climate functions. How do we link those functions? I would like to see more of this in the IPCC report. We have heard, for example, that beekeeping could have an increased role in rewetting. Section B4.3 of the IPCC report refers to the importance of natural vegetation restoration, in which pollinators, of course, have a key role. How do the national pollinator plan and pollination feature in the plans we are hearing about regarding land use? Pollination is crucial in the restoration of natural vegetation and in ecosystems and forests but is also crucial in horticulture, which has been mentioned. On a global and national level how are we prioritising actions around the pollinator pathway and their intersection?

Deputy Stanley mentioned very eloquently the quality of hedgerows, not simply awareness of them. Hedgerows are key pollinator pathways across the Irish landscape. They are very important in that function.

I thought 12 km is a small amount-----

Mr. Bill Callanan

It is 1,200 km.

My apologies for my mistake. Under the Heritage Act, where persons cut hedgerows for road safety reasons, they no longer have to report doing so to a local authority. Has that affected the accuracy with which we can measure hedgerows? Is it anticipated that, under CAP, the measurement of the carbon sequestration role of hedgerows will be done alongside their habitat role? Will we have a suite of measures under which farmers in GLAS or its next iteration will report? How detailed will the description of the quality of hedgerows be in that process?

On horticultural issues and food waste, are there measures around matters like heirloom diversity? That is a question for Dr. Haughey.

Are there tensions between fodder and food when decisions are being made in respect of land use? Land is used on a global level for ruminants, for fodder and for food.

I know Dr. Haughey cannot deal with all of the issues. I ask him to address as many of them as he can from his own perspective.

Dr. Eamon Haughey

The use of nitrogen has increased by approximately 800% since 1961. There are a few reasons for this massive global increase. The use of nitrogen began from a very low base, particularly in the developing world. It has increased most dramatically in Asia over the period. It is clear that there are issues with water quality. We talk a lot about sustainable intensification. This report sets out some statements on limits to intensification when it becomes unsustainable. When water quality is reduced and it is obvious that there are inefficiencies in the system, I would say the use of that fertiliser is no longer sustainable. A related finding is that there has been an increase in nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture globally over the same period. That is linked to the increase in ruminant agriculture and fertiliser inputs. There are several things that can be done here in Ireland. Teagasc is doing a great deal of work on the need for an uptake in the use of clovers in grassland swards. It is an active research area. Clover can reduce the amount of nitrogen that is needed because it fixes it naturally from the atmosphere. It is a win-win. The protein content of clover is higher than that of grass, which makes it another win. The protein sufficiency of farms can be increased in this way. I mention that in response to the point that was made about the land area required for feed.

I will explain why biodiversity was not covered in the special report on land. Part of the reason is that another report from the UN - the IPBES report on biodiversity - was published earlier this year. Biodiversity was not dealt with as a main issue in the special report, which focused on climate. The Government did not ask for biodiversity to be a main chapter in the special report. One of the outcomes of the special report is the recommendation that we need to act by using integrated response options which consider many challenges at once. It is not necessarily the best idea to focus solely on targeting mitigation, for example. Some of the high nature value grasslands we have in Ireland, particularly in the north and the west, where there are less productive soils, might not be the best place to put forestry because that would have a really negative impact on biodiversity. Regional specificity is certainly an important part of that kind of thing as well.

My final point relates to food waste and horticulture. Agricultural diversification is identified in this report as one of the response options. I am looking at a table that is referred to as figure SPM.3. Agricultural diversification is positive across mitigation, adaptation, desertification, land degradation and food security. Ireland has one of the lowest rates of vegetable and horticultural production in Europe. If we could improve that, it would be beneficial for farmers' incomes. Having a more diverse income stream can buffer against the food price shocks we associate with dips in the price of milk or beef. It could be of benefit to have another income stream. Potentially, there is a lot that could be done with regard to diversification.

Mr. Karl Coggins

I will speak about the link between biodiversity and climate and the pollinator plan. The Department supports the planting of native woodlands through its afforestation scheme. I will refer to the number of trees as a metric. At the beginning of the forestry programme, we planted approximately 350,000 native trees. In 2018, that increased to just over 1 million native trees. So far this year, we are on target to exceed last year's target in terms of native woodlands.

On the pollinator plan, I remind the committee that native woodlands create very valuable habitats for pollinators. On World Bee Day earlier this year, the Department wrote to the owners of native woodlands to invite them to contact the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations and the Irish Beekeepers Association with a view to establishing hives in those woodlands, which we helped them to establish. The Department has done many things to help to increase native woodland cover. The increase in rates in the mid-term review was mentioned earlier. The Department recently announced the name of the first business that will contribute to the establishment of native woodlands under the Department's new woodland environmental fund. We believe this fund offers real potential to incentivise even further the planting of native woodlands.

Mr. Bill Callanan

The Department financially supports the pollinator plan and promotes it in its publications, etc. Some positive pollinator actions that farmers can take are set out in a couple of interesting booklets. They are supported by the actions taken in schemes like the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme. Things like bee habitats and wild bird cover are tremendously positive for the likes of pollinators. This is what we mean by co-benefits. Our campus in Backweston was managed in a pollinator-friendly way this year. Large areas of the campus were not cut. We are very keen to support pollinators. We introduced bees to the roof of Agriculture House earlier this year. A number of locations in central Dublin are now used for beekeeping.

Reference has been made to grant aid schemes. Under the horticulture aid scheme, support is given to the Irish Beekeepers Association for physical infrastructure. We also provide a service with regard to diseases in bees, etc. This is being implemented through the Backweston campus as a further service to the industry.

We were also asked about derogations, etc. The demand for flexibility during the closed period is an issue that we have discussed. Dr. Haughey has articulated the reasons we are so keen to proceed in this regard. The most attractive way to reduce the use of nitrogen fertiliser is to use slurries in a better way. That is driving our thinking. I would be wrong to suggest that we are lax in our implementation of the nitrates directive. There is a role for housing in this regard. The whole-territory approach taken in Ireland is not common everywhere. Ireland is one of just seven or eight countries that include phosphorous, as well as nitrogen, in the implementation of the nitrates directive. The impact of phosphorous on water quality is as big as that of nitrogen. Overall, we are taking a strong approach to the implementation of the directive. We avail of a derogation by allowing some more intensive farming to take place. That comes at an additional cost to the farmers in question, who are required to take additional measures. There is a quid pro quo in this case. Generally speaking, pasture land does not tend to be a leaky as other types of farming land. This has an impact on the risks associated with it. We must comply with certain conditions that apply when a derogation is being applied for. We take a strong approach in this area.

On the quality of hedges, I should point out that hedge cutting is not controlled by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. As I have pointed out previously, the issue is the timing of hedge cutting rather than its impact on the carbon content. There is ongoing work in this area. I have cautioned people in this respect on a few occasions. Hedgerows are a big sink in terms of carbon emissions and sequestered carbon. They account for approximately 6% of the landscape. We see them as important. The only thing that is of value, in terms of credit, is the additionality. Work is ongoing with regard to the change of management and understanding the carbon content. Rather than using hedgerows as a get-out-of-jail card by saying we have a significant number of them, we need to focus on the extent to which additional planting is different from what was being done in 2005. No additional credit arises unless the area covered by hedgerows is bigger than the area covered by hedgerows in the baseline year.

The Senator has one minute.

My problem is that we do not know as much about hedgerow coverage as we used to because hedge cutting for road safety purposes is no longer reported to local authorities.

Biogas has been specifically mentioned. I see a potential tension in the future. When methane was discussed last week, we heard that it acts faster. There are concerns that methane, in particular, may need some capping over the next ten years or so as we seek to avoid tipping points.

Biogas is potentially one use of it. It is at least recycling or reusing methane, including methane that may be imported fracked gas. I am not looking at Ireland's overall greenhouse gas emissions but the specific issue of methane. Is there tension about where the acceleration is prioritised? Is the production of methane in farming the area that needs to be transitioned? That is a longer term transition that needs to be engaged in. Is the period for action on methane in the farming sector narrowed if a new methane-intensive import is also brought into the mix by increasing LNG or shale gas imports?

Mr. John Spink

The Department has just funded a new research project with one of my colleagues in Teagasc. It is focused on reducing methane production from ruminants and looking at various elements to include in the diet. That would drive down the total volume of methane produced in the first place. A decision was taken that, rather than being a CHP plant, the anaerobic digestion plant being established in Grange would be targeted towards biomethane production.

Was the Senator's question about methane and anaerobic digestion?

I am happy to follow up on it. The question of rewetting peatlands was not answered. Are peatlands currently designated for agriculture or forestry to be restored as peatlands environments? We know that greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands are higher when used for agriculture and forestry. Will Teagasc rewet them?

Mr. Bill Callanan

We have identified that our climate commitment and the achievement of reducing emissions while also maximising sequestration, with our contribution to the whole-of-Government plan being 26.8 megatonnes, requires afforestation to deliver 20 megatonnes. The remainder will come from better management of peatlands. We estimate that approximately 40,000 ha are required out of the 300,000 to 400,000 ha of managed peatlands in the country. We have commenced a project that would be ideal in the next CAP. A €3 million fund was committed in the recent budget to support climate projects. We will implement a programme to prepare for a project under the European innovation programme, in which we have quite a number of different projects supported in a results-driven process. I cannot give the quantum but it will be a significant area of peatlands in which we will implement those measures, which we would see as contributing to carbon sequestration, learning from that, understanding how to measure them and where they are located, etc., and building our knowledge for greater ambition in the next CAP.

Is the rewetting of forestry land that had been peatlands and was drained on the agenda?

Mr. John Muldowney

We are looking at a number of live projects to recover peatlands from previously forested areas. Those live projects are on raised bogs. We will get the details on those projects. The National Parks and Wildlife Service is also committing to improve the management of 22,000 ha of biodiversity rich peatlands.

I thank the witnesses for attending.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.35 p.m. until 2 p.m on Wednesday, 23 October 2019.