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Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action debate -
Thursday, 31 Mar 2022

Exploring Technologies and Opportunities to Reduce Emissions in the Agriculture Sector: Discussion (Resumed)

Apologies have been received from Deputy Devlin and Senators Pauline O'Reilly and O'Donovan. I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones.

The purpose of today's meeting is to explore technologies and opportunities that may exist in the effort to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector. The committee will hear from representatives of two companies, Dolan Industries Limited and Devenish. Each company has been allocated one hour for their engagement with the committee.

On 28 February, legal requirement for mask-wearing in all settings was removed. However, it is still good practice to use face coverings, particularly in crowded areas. The service encourages all members of the parliamentary community to wear face masks when moving around the campus and in close proximity to others. While the easing of restrictions removed the general requirement of for 2 m physical distancing, public health advice continues to state that maintaining a distance from other people is good practice. It is important that everybody in the parliamentary community continues to be respectful of other people's space.

Witnesses giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. This means that witnesses have full defence in any defamation action for anything said at a committee meeting. However, witnesses are expected not to abuse this privilege and may be directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on an issue. Witnesses should follow the direction of the Chair in this regard and are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that, as is reasonable, no adverse commentary should be made against an identifiable third person or entity. Witnesses who are giving evidence from a location outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as witnesses giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts and may consider it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. Privilege against defamation does not apply to the publication by witnesses, outside the proceedings held by the committee, of any matter arising from the proceedings.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make any charges against any person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Parliamentary privilege is considered to apply to utterances of members participating online in this committee meeting when their participation is from within the parliamentary precincts. There can be no assurance in relation to participation online from outside the parliamentary precincts and members should be mindful of this when they are contributing.

In the first session today, we will hear from representatives from Dolan Industries Limited, as follows: Mr. John Dolan, managing director; and Mr. Matthew Macken, technical manager and adviser. I call the witnesses to make their opening statement.

Mr. John Dolan

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach and members of the committee for inviting Dolan Industries to speak on this important subject matter; the exploration of technologies that may exist in the effort to reduce emissions in the agriculture sector. Dolan Industries is a limited small and medium enterprise, SME, company. We are traditionally an agriculture-based company. More than 60% of the products and services it supplies are agricultural in origin. Today we will be discussing the massive advantages of variable rate prescription-based nutrient application in the agricultural sector. The existing technology incorporated by Dolan Industries Limited can provide not only a monumental cost savings to Irish farmers, it can also mitigate and considerably reduce environmental impacts caused by nutrient and chemical fertiliser application.

Dolan Industries Limited is fortunate to be based in an area populated by some of the most intelligent and forward-thinking farmers on this island. Because of the absence of vast areas of land in our area, farmers are constantly and consistently adapting to new methods to maximise their profits. These farmers and customers have served as teachers, advisers and inspiration for the majority of the services Dolan Industries offers. One of Dolan Industries services includes the supply and spreading of chemical-based fertilisers and it is this service that has brought us before the committee. Dolan Industries supplies and spread between 1,300 and 1,800 tonnes of chemical fertiliser per annum. This is a small amount in the grand scale of fertiliser sold throughout Ireland.

For this operation of almost 20 years, a simple blanket-based spreading system has been used, along with global positioning system, GPS, guidance. This system is the most commonly used throughout Ireland. While GPS has a good advantage in reducing overlap, it has become somewhat outdated and the old blanket-based spreading system, while adequate for its time, resulted in waste and sometimes possibly produced erratic spread patterns due to variation between granulated fertilisers and its prilled counterparts. Dolan Industries Limited decided to begin to fully overhaul its existing fertiliser operation during the latter half of 2020 by buying the latest cutting edge technology and incorporating additional peer reviewed technology adapted from predominantly tillage-based farming. This would include: additional upgraded GPS systems; automatic steering tractor guidance; variable rate section control; auto stop-start fertiliser spreading; and a utility vehicle, UTV, linking system from office to tractor. Dolan industries has recently successfully incorporated and amalgamated this available technology into a grass-based setting.

The technology and service Dolan Industries now offers has huge benefits in reducing the negative effects on sustainability, biodiversity and environmental consequences associated with nutrient applications on farm level.

Prescription-based variable rate technology is the application of farm nutrients, such as compound chemical fertilisers, lime, slurry and alternative products, over a predetermined area of land utilising different precise targeted rates of application. The advantages include a reduction in compound fertiliser. Precise amounts of phosphorus, potassium and lime can now be applied and targeted over vast areas. This method is used in conjunction with more environmentally-friendly nitrogen or urea-based accelerants such as protected ureas and terracan. There is an accurate targeted approach. Each area of land will get a precise level of various nutrients predetermined by prescription-based mapping software, which, in turn, is transferred wirelessly to the machinery to complete the application.

On the mitigation of environmental impacts, by pre-mapping external and internal field boundaries using specialised equipment or desktop software, we can mark areas sensitive to environmental impact. The machinery doing the application will then be unable to spread near buffer zones and protected areas making water contamination almost impossible. The accurate real-time uploadable and downloadable data is automatically recorded. Utilising this technology can confidently save a farmer 15% of his annual fertiliser costs above standard nutrient application and 10% above standard GPS guided spreader application.

Characteristics of soil type, texture, soil pH and nutrient requirements are pinpointed to certain areas of land by collecting soil samples using GPS grid referencing and then uploaded to map-creating software. Also marked and pinpointed are nutrient-sensitive zones, special areas of conservation, SACs, special protected areas, SPAs, water buffer zones, ground water courses, river banks and riparian margins. Soil samples are analysed by the laboratory and the resulting data are returned and uploaded into a previously created map. The farmer and landowner is consulted and a nutrient application plan is drawn up. It is worth noting that data received by soil sampling enables farmers to forward buy fertilisers at different times of the year. This may help in forward planning and improve cost savings.

The fertiliser, being a compound or straight depending on the best value and its application rate, is populated to the maps and then emailed or transferred to the tractor and machinery via USB. When it is time to spread, the tractor and spreader arrives in the field and the data transfer is automatically uploaded and activated. The tractor and spreader then automatically steers around the field and opens and closes the spreader according to the predetermined rate set through the mapping software. A blanket spread rate using compound fertiliser is also possible.

It is also worth noting that any spreader using this type of technology will start and stop spreading at exactly the correct moment. It will also continue to reduce its spreading width at angles and eventually shut off completely when nearing the sensitive areas of conservation, as previously discussed. This removes all operator error completely. The completed map area, rate applied, date and time is then logged and recorded. This information can also be emailed back to the office or sent to a cloud server.

Dolan Industries understands fully the degradation of water quality in Ireland. It can be associated with nitrates, phosphates and leaching from farm land. It is the belief that, under our environmental and climate obligations, by adapting this technology water quality in Ireland can be improved as a result.

The benefits of using variable rate technology are not only improving but maximising crop yields; greater farm efficiency and productivity by harnessing better use of chemical and organic fertilisers; major cost saving benefits to farmers from accurate applications; no over or under application of fertilisers in each land parcel; improving soil indexes and fertility; less run off and soil leaching; greater protection of nutrient sensitive zones; and full transparency and data collection of work done.

Everybody here today is aware of the parabolic increase in chemical fertilisers over the past few months due primarily to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Irish farmers, along with those in the rest of European Union, are under enormous pressure to be able to produce enough food. While it is a precarious time, I believe it will allow for unprecedented opportunities in the agricultural sector. The realisation that food security is of paramount importance is about to hit home shortly.

A percentage of farmers have not yet secured their fertiliser for this season. Shortages, delayed delivery times and outrageous prices have resulted in a serious crisis. The totality of this crisis has yet to play out and farmers, unable to either buy or secure fertiliser, will have no option but to de-stock and reduce production. This will have significant unforeseen consequences for Ireland's rural economy and could have potential animal welfare repercussions this winter.

It should be the Government's objective to maximise food productivity in an environmentally-sustainable manner. The technology we have incorporated can allow this immediately. However, the immediate problem is the significant cost of fertiliser at this time. Farmers need alternatives and they need them quickly.

There is one such alternative Dolan Industries Limited and Biocore Environmental Limited would like to put through its testing and analysis phase immediately. Dolan Industries Limited along with Biocore Environmental Limited feel that Irish agriculture as a whole would benefit more from sustainable solutions by creating an indigenous supply of bio-fertiliser on the island through the use of dried digestate, liquid digestate and bio-solids from anaerobic digestion and bio-methane facilities which currently exist in the country. This would help greatly in complementing the use of standard chemical-based fertilisers. Currently these valuable sources of nutrients are highly sought after due to the current fertiliser crisis. Unfortunately, these are classed as waste products and not by-products or, indeed, valuable sources of nutrients for farmers at a fraction of the price of current chemical fertilisers. In order to change this, it is recommended that the Government fast-track legislation and classification of these highly valuable and environmentally-sustainable nutrients as products.

Currently the anaerobic digestion sector is in its infancy in Ireland. However, it offers solutions in providing renewable sustainable locally-sourced and produced bio-fertilisers. If legislation can be changed quickly, it would help avert some of the effects of this current fertiliser crisis. This would also allow for Ireland to create its own indigenous supply of fertiliser as a result of also creating renewable energy, helping the country achieve its climate targets by the end of the decade.

On classifying digestates as a by-product and natural fertiliser, a reclassification would allow the anaerobic digestion industry to work side by side to grow and develop and with greater policy initiatives and measures developing the supply of renewable energy and fertiliser, tackling climate change and protecting soils and water quality. With this in mind, combining the latest technology in terms of prescription-based variable rate nutrient application maps will offer full transparency to all relevant authorities and regulatory bodies on how and where the nutrients have been applied. It is also recommended that these products are applied using only variable rate technology, data recording and prescription-based mapping in order to fully maximise best practice and ensure fully transparent traceability of all applications of nutrients regardless of location to all relevant authorities, locally, nationally and at European level.

Dolan Industries Limited is aware that there are proposals currently in place to allow farmers to get 25% of their payment through the pillar 1 eco-scheme by utilising GPS-controlled fertiliser spreading services, such as ours. We strongly agree with and welcome this proposal which will serve as a catalyst in accelerating Ireland's environmental responsibilities.

Targets to reduce ammonium nitrate uses by 20% to 30% by 2030 is not only achievable by that time but, with correctly-targeted funding, can be achieved in a much shorter timeframe. The technology incorporated by Dolan Industries Limited can be implemented and replicated on a national level in a very short timeframe as most new machinery and skilled professional contractors have the capability to achieve this.

Additionally, the spreader alone, while an advantage, is only capable of achieving a fraction of the economic and environmental advantages set out in this report. Additional to the spreader, it is recommended to take and utilise up-to-date soil samples and use additional GPS receivers, mobile utility vehicles, UTVs, or desktop software for creating internal and external field boundaries, participate in equipment training and upload data to cloud software. Only when all of this is achieved will the full extent of this technology be utilised. As a result, Dolan Industries recommends registered agricultural contractors with appropriate training carry out this work on farms where it is unfeasible for farmers to purchase this level of machinery.

For Dolan Industries Limited and other agricultural contractors the initial cost of this service and equipment is intensive in both labour and resources. Dolan Industries Limited is currently involved in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Government-backed soil sampling programme. A joint venture between IAS Laboratories and Dr. Eoghan Finneran's company Farmeye indicates the soil test is of the utmost importance to the first stage of the variable rate technology, where and what to spread being the primary objective. Dolan Industries Limited is aware of the continuation and expansion of the soil sampling programme and the additional funding allocated to it.

It is a very welcome addition to the farming and agricultural community. Dolan Industries suggests that, along with the proposed Pillar 1 eco-scheme involving 25% additional extra funding being given to farmers willing to use the full totality this service, progressive environmentally concerned farmers should be, and must be, rewarded rather than penalised because viable alternatives are not yet mainstream. Additional funds to be received by farmers will mitigate the large labour costs to the contractor on initial set-up. Further payments over a three- to five-year period to maintain and continue the service are also recommended. Without these supports in place, farmers will simply not avail of these services and will continue to apply nutrients using older outdated spreader and GPS systems. This can only serve to subvert and undercut attempts by progressive businesses that are trying to move forward both technically and environmentally. If environmental concerns are of paramount importance, Government support on this issue is needed quickly.

To summarise, Dolan Industries recommends that a Pillar 1 25% eco-scheme for GPS-guided spreaders be implemented along with the uploading of map data and information on work done to a central data server. The reclassification of digestate and bio-solids as a by-product fertiliser, provided they are applied using a farm nutrient plan coupled with the uploading of mapping data and the use of variable-rate spreading technology, should be fast-tracked. Additional funding should be given in stages to environmentally and economically concerned farmers who are utilising some or all of the services outlined, with the maximum funds available to those utilising the service in its totality. Additional maintenance payments for the service's upkeep should be phased out over a three- to five-year period. This will allow all farmers to enter the system, upload all farm data and output farm data. I again thank the committee for the invitation.

I thank Mr. Dolan very much for that interesting and very in-depth description. I saw this system working on the farm of one of those who worked with Dolan Industries in bringing forward this pilot scheme. How many farmers are using this technology at the moment? What is the cost of the spreader that is needed? What costs relate to the accompanying data?

Mr. John Dolan

Between the software, the spreader, the tractor and utility task vehicle, UTV, the cost is somewhere in the region of €200,000. Most of the people currently utilising the service are larger dairy farmers. Now, when they spread a compound fertiliser over their grazing platform, they can target phosphorous and potassium levels individually. They can, in effect, make up their own compound. Instead of using, for example, an 18-6-12 fertiliser, they could make up a 27-9-4 fertiliser. They can make up their own compound by running over the area three times, spreading the different elements separately as opposed to in one compound.

If part of a field had a different pH level, it is my understanding that the spreader adjusts what it is spreading accordingly. Is that correct?

Mr. John Dolan

That is correct, yes.

If a large field soil is tested and it is found that different parts of the field have different pH levels, the spreader will adjust.

Mr. Matthew Macken

Using variable rate technology, we can break a field into certain grid areas, usually of 1 ha or 2 ha. The field is divided into those grid areas and soil references from each are GPS referenced allowing us to identify different parcels or areas of the field that are lacking or quite high in nutrients. When it comes to spreading, the software communicates with the equipment to only put nutrients exactly where they are needed, based on the soil samples that have been taken. That is correct, yes.

Mr. Dolan said the technology costs €200,000.

Mr. John Dolan

It costs in and around that figure, yes.

That is very prohibitive for most farmers, unfortunately.

Mr. John Dolan

Absolutely. That is why we recommend making some funding available for farmers to pay the contractors. The contractor has the specialised equipment. Most contractors in the country who have relatively new fertiliser spreaders have the capability to achieve this very quickly. They have to buy additional equipment but the spreader, which is the main part, is already there. The contractors also have to be trained to use the software for uploading the data.

I will be very brief because, unfortunately, I was help up and was late. I apologise to Mr. Dolan for that. Initially, this meeting was fixed for 9.30 a.m. I had something else on at 1.30 p.m. and so missed the beginning. However, I have read the submission and am intrigued by, and very interested in, what he is telling us. I can only see benefits from the technology they are talking about.

However, many dots need to be joined up. That is my interpretation. Mr. Dolan talked about mapping technology, software and machinery. Realistically, it is going to be contractors who use this. It will not be feasible for individual farmers unless they operate on a very large scale. How does he see the dots being joined up? Soil sampling is involved, as is mapping, the technology and the machinery. We met farm contractors yesterday and, at the moment, they do not qualify for grants in respect of machinery whereas farmers may. Under the current system, there is the potential for grant aid for individual farmers if they could achieve this. Unless there are changes to the system, contractors will probably be ruled out. How does Mr. Dolan see all of those dots being joined up?

My other question is on the request to reclassify digestate from anaerobic digestion. Where do the witnesses see us going in that regard? We are way behind the curve in the area of anaerobic digestion. Where can we go in this regard and where should we go?

Mr. John Dolan

I can answer the question on joining the dots with regard to equipment but I will refer the question on digestate to Mr. Macken. I am well aware of the work being done by Farm Contractors Ireland. I watched the meeting on the targeted agriculture modernisation scheme, TAMS II. It is my personal opinion that the whole system is wrong. A farmer goes out and spends €50,000 or €60,000 on a tanker but may not have the tractor or necessary skills to operate it correctly. The contractor is not allowed any grants. The contractor comes in and does the work. He might have to move the new tanker the farmer got with grant support out of the way to complete his work. I have heard lots of stories like that around the country. This is definitely a system for contractors because they have the specialised tractors, machinery and staff to make use of it. The dot-joining exercise should be done. Instead of grant money for machinery he may not utilise, the farmer should be given grant money for work done. Farmers should be given extra payments if they incorporate all of this technology because it is an environmentally sustainable way to spread fertiliser. They would then be able to transfer money to the contractor who does the work, if that is the way the Department wants to pay farmers. I will pass over to Mr. Macken on the digestate question.

Mr. Matthew Macken

With regard to the anaerobic digestion, AD, sector, we are quite behind in Ireland. In the UK, there are in excess of 1,000 AD plants. There is quite a generous supply of indigenous fertiliser in the UK. I believe there are fewer than ten plants here on our island. The regulations in this area go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s and classify by-products of this kind as waste. We feel this is not correct. Liquid digestate, dry digestate and biosolids all contain valuable nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, that could be made available to farmers. The farmers I have been dealing with and on whose farms we have spread have had very positive responses from using such products but the area is quite restricted because of the legislation classifying these materials as waste rather than as by-products, which would make it more usable for all farmers. Endorsement from Bord Bia, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine would be needed to allow all farmers access to these products and to let them use them.

To go back to the situation in respect of contractors, has Dolan Industries had much communication with or buy-in from merchants or large co-operatives? In many cases, these are the contractors when it comes to fertiliser. A farmer can buy fertiliser and have it delivered and he can buy it and have it spread by the merchant or co-operative. Has Dolan Industries had any dealings with them? Are any of the co-operatives or large merchants buying into this technology?

Mr. John Dolan

As I said earlier on, we are actually merchants ourselves. We have successfully trialled this technology over just the past few weeks. We started at Christmas but needed the weather to do it. As was mentioned earlier, quite a large proportion of bulk spreading contractors among merchants throughout the country are capable of adopting this technology. The reason they do not want to do so is that there is an additional cost involved. Men have to be sent out to mark out fields. Staff need to be trained to upload and download data using the software. It is just not viable when a contractor is only getting paid so much per tonne to spread.

If the farmer were incentivised to look for this technology and paid to use it, the contractors could in turn charge more of a premium on top for this sort of work. It makes sense.

That is basically what I was saying about joining up the dots. There are two elements. It is not buy the software and away you go. I could have the software but if someone is coming to spread for me, I would need to have the groundwork done with mapping and plotting.

Mr. John Dolan

The maps can be done in two different ways. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine soil sampling scheme could be used. The agricultural adviser could put it on a USB key and transfer the data to the tractor. Alternatively, what we are doing is getting the contractor to do the service in its totality.

I welcome the witnesses. I want to hear about a few elements of the trials Dolan Industries has done. They are talking about water quality all the time. Am I correct in saying the machine can be programmed on the USB once the soil sampling is done? Is the soil sampling just done once or is it every few years? My understanding is it can be programmed through the USB stick so that where there is a risk of flood or water, you can stop to save that area from spreading anything. So far in all the trials, what has been the saving for farmers? Say a farmer buys 0-7-30, 10-10-20 or whatever fertiliser every year. What has been the saving from knowing what is required in the fields based on what the witnesses have trialled so far, percentage-wise or whatever?

Mr. John Dolan

I thank the Deputy. To go back to the start of it, we were on about protecting sensitive areas and water zones. If the prescription made for the field for the required amount is emailed to the tractor or uploaded via USB and the operator selects the fields, the spreader will not allow the operator to spread in the protected areas because it is marked with a UTV or desktop software. We have found the UTV largely more accurate because a person is on the field and can see what is happening. Using Google Maps or something is difficult because things change in fields and they can be outdated.

Mr. John Dolan

It is like a quad or something similar, so you physically drive the internal and external boundaries.

Does a person only have to do that, I presume-----

Mr. John Dolan


It is like doing a map or nutrient management plan for the farm.

Mr. John Dolan


It is done once and you have it done forever.

Mr. John Dolan

A nutrient management plan will probably change over time but the internal-external boundaries-----

Would it not be done every four years to keep it accurate?

Mr. John Dolan

We recommend soil testing every two to three years.

It would not be necessary to do the mapping of the fields because you have them already.

Mr. John Dolan

The mapping of the fields would be done once. When the spreader comes to an angle in the field or a sensitive area for conservation, the discs of the machine will slow; if it keeps driving into that area, they will eventually stop and shut off the machine. It is impossible to spread in it.

On the question about saving, all these modern variable rate fertiliser spreaders have an accuracy level of +1% to -1% over a huge area. The accuracy level is 10% above standard GPS-guided application with a blanket spreader.

Mr. John Dolan

With GPS-guided fertiliser spreading, where the GPS guides the operator in a straight line and it is a blanket spreader, when the operator turns the corner and comes to an angle, he could overlap a small percentage of what he is doing. When this spreader comes to an overlap, it slows down the disc and eventually stops. Most new spreaders have the capability of doing this.

The farmer who wants to spread 0-7-30 or 10-10-20-----

Most farmers just bang out two or three bags to the acre and whether it grows or not is whatever happens. How much of a saving have the witnesses looked at in this?

Mr. John Dolan

The totality of the system would be 15%

So a farmer putting out ten tonnes will save 1.5 tonnes-----

Mr. John Dolan


-----which on today's figures is about €1,500 to €1,700.

Mr. John Dolan

We estimate 10% on the physical spreading and the 5% is made up by targeted nutrients - where they should go in the field. To start off simply, we will not adapt into this the full amount of technology that tillage farmers use because they have vast areas of land for doing it. Our idea is for a farmer to spread a different rate on each field or paddock and over the course of a year or year and a half, if one paddock is not performing, do an in-depth analysis of that, eventually bringing the farm up to a higher standard. The farmer will increase production, and do it sustainably.

Mr. Dolan is saying there is a strong possibility buying costs can be reduced by 15% and watercourses or sensitive areas are protected. There is an additional cost, obviously. Do the witnesses tie in with the new system the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has, whereby it brought out a scheme for soil sampling last back-end?

Mr. John Dolan

That is correct.

Some of it was a disaster because it was not done until a month ago. Contractors on busy farms are putting out fertiliser for many a year. Would that be fair to say?

Mr. John Dolan


That is especially on dairy farms because they do not have time. The GPS is generally on the new fertiliser spreaders now.

Mr. John Dolan

That is correct.

You have to get whatever additional antenna to have the work done on the field to make sure you have all the information and that information lasts. Mr. Dolan is saying the soil is sampled every four years and there is a saving on that.

Mr. John Dolan


I want to go on to the anaerobic digesters. There is a problem around the country where anaerobic digesting is done and the sludge is brought from cities or large towns, from water or wastewater. If a person in Bord Bia, that body does not let him or her spread it.

Mr. Matthew Macken


I have rung and talked to a person in Bord Bia. I have asked for a meeting with the technical people in Bord Bia. My understanding is there is no scientific evidence to say there is anything wrong with the gear once it is brought to a temperature in an anaerobic digester. No more than if a person is told he or she cannot drink the water because there is E. coli in it, if the water is boiled, it can be drunk, to put it simply. I believe Mr. Macken is with the university, is he?

Mr. Matthew Macken

I graduated last year.

I am told there is no scientific evidence that it would be harmful but mentally we are saying we do not want the bullock, heifer or cow in that because it came from where sludge comes out, be it Irish Water or whatever. People in cities need to know of the knock-on effect of this. There will soon be no place to go with what comes out of the sewage treatment plants.

Mr. Matthew Macken


It is at a time when fertiliser prices are high. I would be a full believer, because you have to watch it, say with pharmaceutical stuff and all of that, for iron and all the different things that are in things coming out of places. We have to do an in-depth analysis. My understanding is the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is happy with it and does not have a problem.

Mr. Matthew Macken


Teagasc is happy with it.

Mr. Matthew Macken


Bord Bia is not. If a person is in Bord Bia, he or she is not going to take part in this. The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications has people on councils running around after tankers, wondering what they have on. A person must have his or her NMP, cannot be in Bord Bia, and there are a heap of stipulations stifling the process.

Mr. Matthew Macken


What is the solution? We will have a major problem for the people living in cities and large towns. In terms of an angle from which we could reduce fertiliser imports, as we know the price of it this year, Dolan Industries' first system would reduce costs by 15%. The second system would significantly reduce importation. My understanding is that this is allowable in other EU countries. Where does Dolan Industries see the blockages?

Mr. Matthew Macken

In terms of legislation, we feel that we are very far behind the rest of the EU in the use of this biofertiliser. It is quite readily available to plants and soil, in comparison with other imported chemical varieties. The biggest change we would like to see is the reclassification of digestate from a waste to an organic fertiliser co-product, which it is. It has quite high nutritive content, something of which, I am sure, the Deputy is aware. We need to get this classification changed. The endorsement from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Bord Bia and the EPA will greatly increase the amount of land that will and can be made available to avail of this valuable source of nutrients for farmers and tillage farmers throughout the country. Currently, there are certain county councils in which it can be used and others in which it cannot.

If one is in Bord Bia, one cannot use it.

Mr. Matthew Macken

One cannot use it at all.

Many farmers are in Bord Bia.

Mr. Matthew Macken

The digestion process is quite controlled.

To be clear, Mr. Macken is talking about bringing it from the sludge pit into the proper anaerobic digester and bringing the heat treatment in the latter up to a certain degree-----

Mr. Matthew Macken

It is then pasteurised. It goes through the same pasteurisation process.

We are not talking about bringing it in the lorry from the place out in the field.

Mr. Matthew Macken

Absolutely not.

I agree with what Mr. Macken has said.

Mr. Matthew Macken

It goes through the same pasteurisation process as milk and other dairy products. If it is good enough for people to ingest, it is damn good enough.

What is the solution?

Mr. Matthew Macken

To reclassify this from a waste to an organic product.

Mr. John Dolan

The solution is also the transparency we have put out on this. If the machine is incapable of spreading in sensitive areas and if it gets an exact prescription of the rate per acre, it can be uploaded to the cloud or sent to the relevant authorities that want to see it. There should be no issue at all because any relevant authority can see where, when and how it was spread.

Mr. John Dolan

If that is the issue that is holding this back, we have the solution here today for it.

To summarise, one has a double win. It is a win for sensitive areas and water quality and savings on fertiliser of 15%.

Mr. John Dolan


This is all very interesting. I am coming at it from the point of view of how it fits into the climate piece in terms of emission reductions. While agriculture has lower emission reduction targets for the coming years than other areas, it still has to meet very serious emission reduction targets. They are not as high as in other sectors.

Effectiveness, efficiency and the impact on soil are very interesting. I was interested in soil testing. I would love it if the witnesses could comment on how they think this work might be relevant if there is a future soils directive. It does look as though there might be an EU soil directive coming down the line. That would be important.

I am also looking to how it relates to reducing emissions. In that context, one of the areas where emissions are quite high from Ireland is in terms of nitrates. We have a derogation. Mr. Dolan mentioned the fact that by 2030 he felt nitrate use could be reduced and that it could be earlier than that. I would be very surprised if Ireland did that. We have just received a new nitrates derogation but, as I understand it, from 2025, that will expire.

Under the Pillar 1 eco-scheme, with regard to GPS-controlled fertiliser spreading, there are two of the five measures. It needs to be combined with at least one of the other measures in that eco-scheme, one of which is around the reduction in nitrogen usage and the other of which is around limits on livestock products.

How does Dolan Industries' strand, in terms of the technology it brings around GPS-controlled fertiliser spreading that is linked into soil testing, link with each of those other two measures? Both of them are designed to bring us on track to lowering nitrogen and coming, not just within the limits of the nitrates directive, but cutting emissions for-----


Did I get cut off there a moment ago?

The Senator did.

At what point was I cut off? Was I on the-----

At the last sentence.

I had said about linking into Pillar 1 of the eco-scheme, the nitrates derogation and the need to, overall, reduce our emissions and how the witnesses see this contributing to that.

There has been some extensive discussion on the health and safety aspects of anaerobic digestion, but the emission element is very important. We know there are concerns about a large amount of methane leakage from biofuels. It has to be done very carefully in that regard. One of the measures with regard to the use or creation of fertiliser from what was formerly waste will involve measuring methane emissions. Will the witnesses comment on that? How do they see their work intersecting with a reduction in nitrates and a reduction, ultimately, in livestock? Livestock reduction is becoming pressing, as we have to look to the maximum food output from our land in the current crisis of food security, while also ensuring that we reduce the emissions. It may well be that there are more climate-efficient usages-----

We will give the witnesses a chance to answer the Senator.

Mr. John Dolan

There was quite a lot in that. In terms of nitrogen reduction and the derogation, we can cut fertiliser usage by 15% today. In terms of reducing livestock, I believe in tackling each section at a time. If we were able to cut fertiliser usage today, we could quantify data in two or three more years about livestock reduction. I do not believe in livestock reduction. I believe in using better technology to limit our environmental impact.

Does Mr. Dolan see himself intersecting more with Pillar 1? It is interesting. I was not speaking about the idea of maximum livestock. For the GPS to qualify under Pillar 1, it needs to be combined with either a nitrate reduction or a maximum limit on livestock. It seems, for it to qualify, it will have to link one or both of them in each individual time it might apply. I wanted to get a sense of where that-----

Mr. John Dolan

New technology in terms of the nitrogen and ureas come on the market all the time. They are more environmentally friendly products. There is a product called TerraCAN, which is nitrogen. Instead of using 27% nitrogen, it uses only 21%, because it uses an organic compound in order to be able to take up the lower amount of nitrogen more efficiently. All of these data about reduction in nitrogen and reduction in livestock numbers could be outdated in three or four year's time, if all this technology is applied.

We are not looking to keep going in what we are doing but to reduce. The key point is that we have targets we have to meet in the coming five years and in the five years after that. We have then got quite a leap to go to from 2030 to 2050. We will need any additional savings we can make in the period 2030 to 2050, but we will really have to do everything. We cannot rely on any future technologies. Does Mr. Dolan have any comments on the soil health issues and a future soils directive?

Mr. John Dolan

Does Mr. Macken want to take that?

Mr. Matthew Macken

Technologies such this allow for greater in-depth analysis of soil parcels individually, rather than taking soil samples as a collective or a whole over vast tracts of land. Precise discrepancies in soil quality, pH, texture, drainage properties and other areas such as this are taken into account. These can be overlaid using geographic information system, GIS, software and then a suitable application rates or cropping types can be suited to these soil sample results, as a whole, on account of this.

Just by a farmer altering and correcting the soil pH, the nitrogen inputs can be altered by 80 kg per ha according to the latest Teagasc results. That is something well worth looking at.

Mr. Macken's comments about appropriate cropping are also interesting so that, as well as lowering the level of nitrogen needed, it seems it may also be useful for determining what the best and effective use of a particular soil might be.

I thank Mr. Macken. My last question was on methane and the measurement of methane leakage.

Mr. Matthew Macken

That is very heavily regulated from what I see in my work in the AD sector. There is also the matter of health and safety in terms of digestate. A nutrient management plan is always created for wherever it may go. Application rates are then applied. It has to go to the relevant county council which has to approve it. Only then can it be moved and spread on and such. It is usually directly injected into the ground to avoid emissions that way, and through the process, it is stabilised using alkaline, it is pasteurised, heated, reheated, retested and rigorously retested again. From what I have seen going back to 2009 or 2010 with the plant that I am involved in, there is yet to be an issue in any nutrient management plan, NMP, that has been sent out with any heavy metal traces or anything like that surrounding the application of biosolids, sludge or digestate.

I am thinking of the life cycle emissions tracking, even of the energy that goes into those processes. It is not an argument for or against but it is about ensuring that part is tracked when it comes to the blunt emissions reduction schedule.

Mr. Matthew Macken

That is correct. All tests and results are logged, so it is very transparent that way.

I am thinking about TAMS and how this could to be used. The contractors gave a presentation in the audiovisual room yesterday. At the moment agricultural contractors cannot qualify for TAMS.

Mr. John Dolan

That is correct, yes.

At €200,000, very few farmers are going to avail of this technology themselves. To get contractors, we would be talking about 40% or 50% grant. What kind of fund would need to be in place to grant-aid this to get a reasonable take-up and a 26-county spread?

Mr. John Dolan

There are two ways this could be tackled. One is that contractors could receive a grant because it is they who will use the equipment. The second would be to give a grant to farmers for work done so that they could tie it into the payment per hectare.

As it stands, with an €80,000 ceiling in TAMS, if there was any construction work to be done on farms, the ceiling would be used up.

Mr. John Dolan

I understand, yes.

If farmers are going to be able to embrace this and use the technology to reduce their emissions, it will need a separate budget.

I compliment the speakers on their presentation. I used a similar system at home a few weeks ago. It is quite amazing how technology and GPS has changed how we spread fertiliser. The contractor did an amazing job.

We are discussing how PastureBase, this Teagasc app we have for measuring grass, can be tied in to this entire technology. There is the soil sampling side of it, the technology around where it is going to be spread and how it will be worked in, and there is the production side, and PastureBase is a unique app for measuring grass. How can all those dots be joined together for an holistic approach from what is being spread to what is being produced? Can all that be tied in to the product?

Mr. John Dolan

It absolutely can. It can all be tied together using data sharing. I am happy the Senator mentioned grass measuring because we think that is vital in this. It can all be tied in together along with slurry flow control valves, so if slurry is actually tested, using all these systems together, it is possible get accurate, quantifiable data of what is happening on the farm and adjust the nutrient plan to suit. Without the data, none of it really stacks up.

Another interesting point is the use of HarvestLab on self-propelled harvesters. A farmer getting his silage cut can test for proteins, dry matter content and volume. That will also help for that farmer's nutrient plan for the winter. We need good, quantifiable data.

Mr. Matthew Macken

We are big believers that data is knowledge. The more data we have, the more data we can use and the more use this technology has. On grass measuring, it would be similar to what Mr. Dolan mentioned in terms of harvest yields. I use the PastureBase system, so I am well aware of it. It is a fantastic system that was designed by a neighbour of mine. That can all be overlaid in terms of how much yield a particular field or paddock is growing during a certain growing season. That can all be inputted into an overlay software system such as this. Typically, our data use GIS software and it is just a matter of overlaying these different layers together so that yields and so on can be put together and put forward.

The Co-Chair, Deputy Cahill, knows more about this than I do, but this could be equated to genetics, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, how we managed to gather all those data together to change the measurement, and how we then had a bovine animal that could produce more. On the idea of harvesting and collecting data and having a central body that controls those data so the whole thing works better, there is probably a lot of work to be done by the Department around where these data are, how we can equate them, who has access to them and how the technology can be manufactured to tie in a product that can help the system, from spreading fertiliser to the harvesting of silage to the actual growing of grass.

Mr. Matthew Macken

We feel it also has direct advantages to the farmer as well because he can defend the implementations and actions that are taking place on his farm in a given year. The data are always there. They do not lie. They are there to show to all relevant local authorities and bodies and to illustrate what steps the farmer has taken to reduce his carbon footprint.

Mr. John Dolan

I totally agree with what the Senator said about having a central data system for this. For example, if we did the soil sample and the first riser spreading, a different contractor did the grass measuring and uploaded the data to the same server, followed by a different contractor doing the slurry and another one doing the harvest, with all the data being sent to the same place, it would be very interesting to see the system.

Senator Lombard made a very interesting comparison between this and the advances genomic and breeding data got us with regard to milk production. I most definitely am in a position where I accept climate change and that we have to reduce our emissions and our use of nitrogen, but we have to do that without affecting production. We can do that by embracing this modern technology.

I thank everyone for coming in to us today. We might be putting more questions to them in the future because I think their technology is evolving the whole time. I strongly advocate, and I am sure others feel the same way, that we finance this technology going forward. It will be money well spent. It is of value to everyone; not just for the farmers but for the benefit of the climate. We will discuss this again when we finish this meeting today. It will be very much on the agenda that we have to promote the technology and embrace it as much as we can.

Sitting suspended at 2.29 p.m. and resumed at 2.34 p.m.
Senator Tim Lombard took the Chair.

In this second session we will deal with the same matter we dealt with previously. We are joined by a representative from Devenish, Mr. Richard Kennedy. I will read out the note on privilege, which Mr. Kennedy has probably heard before, but I will do it as a matter of courtesy.

Witnesses giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. This means that witnesses have full defence in any defamation action for anything said at a committee meeting. However, witnesses are expected not to abuse this privilege and may be directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on an issue. Witnesses should follow the direction of the Chair in this regard, and they are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that, as is reasonable, no adverse commentary should be made against an identifiable third person or entity.

Witnesses who are giving evidence from a location outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as witnesses giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts and may consider it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter.

I now call on Mr. Kennedy to deliver his opening statement and he has ten minutes.

Mr. Richard Kennedy

I thank the Vice Chairman and I hope that I will not take up the full ten minutes. I thank the joint committee for the opportunity to address it on the subject of exploring technologies and opportunities that may exist in the effort to reduce emissions in the agriculture sector.

With the world population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, and a new European Green Deal, we are facing an enormous challenge to feed a growing population, while dramatically reducing the environmental impact of food production. This presents both challenges and opportunities for the agrifood sector on this island. By utilising new technologies and innovations, we can overcome the challenges we face and embrace the opportunities presented to us and indeed put Ireland the forefront of those.

I am the chief executive of Devenish. At Devenish, we have a track record of agrifood innovation. We continue to invest heavily in research and development to explore new solutions and technologies with the specific aim of reducing the environmental impact of the agriculture sector in the production of food.

To introduce Devenish, it is a research, development and innovation company. We are focused on developing solutions and technologies which ensure the most effective and efficient utilisation of nutrients in the production of food. A large part of our business is focused on developing and producing nutrients for inclusion in feed, which not only improves animal health and performance, but has the added benefit of boosting human health and environmental health. We term this concept: “One Health: from soil to society”. We take a collaborative approach and strategy, working in partnership with researchers, institutions and Government bodies, our customers and suppliers, throughout the whole food chain. We utilise practical research and development, making it commercially applicable in real time, to deliver sustainable food solutions in response to consumer demand for safe and nutritious food. We believe in a science-based approach to developing sustainable solutions for agriculture and food.

Through our “one health: from soil to society” strategy, we are looking at how we can positively influence human health and the environment through the provision of high quality, nutritious solutions, which is very much in line with Ireland’s strategy on food. Established in 1952, and acquired by the current management in 1997, we have grown the business from £5 million annual turnover and 23 employees in 1997, to an international company with over 500 direct employees and £228 million turnover.

Investing in that research and supplementing our manufacturing facilities across the UK, US, Turkey, Mexico and Uganda, we have invested in a range of performance or test houses and research farms, where farm trials are conducted to scientifically publishable standards. Every year, we make a significant investment in research and development to develop solutions to solve the challenges faced by the industry, both today and tomorrow. We have a team of over 40 PhDs and experts developing those products. We regularly collaborate with universities and external centres of excellence, including Queen’s University Belfast, University College Dublin, Harper Adams University, Wageningen University & Research, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, AFBI, and Teagasc.

In 2013, we established our global innovation centre and ruminant research farm at the Devenish lands at Dowth, County Meath. It is now an internationally recognised research farm dedicated to developing sustainable agriculture solutions and promoting human health through nutrition. It acts as a platform for public engagement, as well as being designated as an international lighthouse farm that is leading the way in sustainable food production by Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, one of the leading agricultural universities in the world.

Our research farm at Dowth has been a platform for unique collaborations with partners such as Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, academic partners such as Wageningen, University College Dublin, Queen's University Belfast and AFBI. We have used it to showcase the research we are doing around climate smart farming, biodiversity, economics, and human health to farmers and industry groups. We have formed wider collaborations to explore solutions to climate change including partnering with Gas Networks Ireland and KPMG on Project Clover. We also recently signed a unique collaborative research initiative on climate action with the team at Teagasc, led by Professor Frank O'Mara. We have also used the platform to engage with the Government and recently hosted a joint ministerial visit with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, and the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Mr. Edwin Poots, MLA, alongside the Ulster Farmers Union and the Irish Farmers Association.

Our research at Dowth has focused on measuring, reporting and verification of improved farming practices. As part of this, we have developed a mitigation toolkit to help achieve carbon neutrality, including optimising soil nutrient flow; silvopasture or agroforestry trials; optimising animal nutrition; multispecies swards; and targeted planting of woody riparian strips. We believe that to avail of all the tools in the net-zero toolbox, farm businesses need to be benchmarked on net carbon and not simply gross emissions per kilogramme of meat. We see this as a significant opportunity for farmers and agriculture in Ireland.

In terms of developing new technologies and innovations, one of our key research projects at Dowth is the Heartland project, which was awarded €1.4 million from the European Commission's Horizon 2020 programme. One of the key areas where we have been developing new technologies is to reduce emissions. This project has funded five PhD students to help build a farm management system that has a positive impact on the environment, meat quality and ultimately human health. The students investigate the effect that changing sward diversity on farms can have on soils, sward production, animal performance, meat quality, the environment, social impact and farm economics.

Through this research, we have found that multispecies legume-rich swards offer an opportunity to reduce fertiliser usage, especially nitrogen, on farms while also improving soil structure, reducing nitrogen run-off and improving animal performance and health and farm profitability. In studies at Dowth, we have reduced our nitrogen usage by 60% while still producing approximately 40% more dry matter herbage. As well as improved animal performance, there are improvements in biodiversity, soil structure and water infiltration. It is a win-win all round. Helping farmers to measure and manage emissions is key to our strategy. As well as products and practices that help reduce carbon emissions, we also help farmers assess their carbon balance and plan a route to net zero and beyond. To be able to reduce emissions, farm businesses first need to have an accurate understanding of what their current emissions are, and then be able to effectively measure and manage them. Over the past two years, we have been working in collaboration with Accenture to develop a new sustainable farming initiative that helps to support farmers to continue to produce nutritious meat and milk while improving their carbon balance. By accurately measuring on-farm carbon emissions and, uniquely, carbon sequestration, it is estimated that if applied across the country, Agrinewal will enable more than 5 million tonnes of carbon to be sequestered by 2030. This will create new value for farmers across the island of Ireland, and substantially accelerate the achievement of climate goals while also improving biodiversity, water quality and overall farm resilience and profitability. Agrinewal provides a carbon balance sheet and identifies actions which will help the wider agricultural sector reach net-zero carbon emissions and beyond, boosting the environmental credentials for producers, processors and at every point on the food chain. As the old saying goes: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it". Therefore, ensuring that farmers are encouraged and incentivised to establish their baselines and then supported to avail of all the tools in the net-zero mitigation toolbox is key to the future of Irish farming.

I thank Mr. Kennedy for his contribution.

I welcome Mr. Kennedy and thank him for his presentation. I have visited Dowth and I have seen at first hand everything that he has explained to us today. I have a couple of quick questions and observations. Mr. Kennedy started his presentation by referring to world population growth. I add to that the crisis we are in at the moment with the Ukraine situation and how obvious food security has become as an issue.

Moving on to technology and research, I am a firm believer in the carbon-leakage argument, but often when we put forward the carbon-leakage theory we are cut down and it is said that we are just using it as a defence for the continuation of agricultural output. Mr. Kennedy rightly pointed out - it is obvious to the world today - how important it is that we maintain our output, but at the same time be cognisant of the climate issues and how we can reduce our emissions while, at worst, maintaining our current output. Having visited Dowth, it is very impressive, but with the greatest of respect, a lot of it is based on what one could call laboratory conditions. It is a research and development project and it has access to postgraduate students. Based on the studies he has done in Dowth, could he explain to us as legislators what would be the best way for us to roll out the approach to the entire farming community, population and industry?

Going back to the point on carbon leakage, as a nation, with our current farming structure based on the farm-family model, our climate, our field size and our soil structures, where do we stand on a world scale with regard to our potential to be carbon neutral in agriculture as of today, or down the line with the inclusion of the standards, systems and technologies Mr. Kennedy is rolling out and developing in Dowth?

Mr. Richard Kennedy

First of all, in terms of what we do, I accept it is very much a research farm, but we have always done our research on the basis of it being commercially applicable, and at a very early stage. A key part of that is ensuring this is something farmers can do.

In terms of leakage, having met farmers recently, they are thinking they had better not look at their carbon footprint because if they do not know it, they do not have to do anything about it. In fact, everybody has got a carbon footprint. Once we exist, we have a carbon footprint. Farmers have a carbon footprint inside their gate that has real value to the processors and the retailers because it is ultimately the responsibility of the retailers and processors. What I mean by that is that the carbon footprint of the farmers is termed the scope 3 or tier 3 carbon that a retailer or processor will have and the farmer is the only one that can influence it. There are several anomalies in a number of areas where this needs to be addressed.

To answer the Senator's question on how legislators can engage, it is very important that a clear policy direction is given on carbon in particular. There is quite a bit of noise out there at the moment as to who owns the carbon. From a legislative point of view, that should be clarified very quickly. To me, farmers are the people who own the land, and they are also the people who can take the actions. The Teagasc MAC curve shows what can be done around carbon and the environment. The farmers are the people who will take the action. Therefore, it is vitally important for me that farmers have ownership of their carbon. The reason I say it is vitally important is because if they have ownership of it and there is a monitoring incentive or otherwise to have the best carbon footprint they can have, then they have the place and the time to do it. Our structure plays to the ability to do that. By proposing or suggesting that, it means that our current structure of farming has the potential to deliver on that basis.

What I mean by that is it will not just deliver in terms of carbon reduction for the environment but will also drive economy and business into the rural community. I know the Senator is from a rural area, like me. That approach can underpin the rural community.

I know concern is being expressed about how carbon will be counted on the national inventory and how to avoid double counting. We need a clear policy and a clear infrastructure coming from legislators and Departments with a framework to deliver it. Once carbon is measured, verified and reported in a robust manner, then it is more valuable. It can then be allocated in the national inventory and will only be counted once. However, in order to do all of those things, we must set out our baseline on the basis of individual farms.

The committee may have seen one piece of work that has come out of Devenish and Dowth farm, that is, the soil nutrient health scheme that has been launched in Northern Ireland. Every hectare of soil in Northern Ireland is going to be analysed for carbon and other nutrients. That will mean an immediate baseline across Northern Ireland so farmers know where they are and can build from there.

I hope I have answered the Senator's question but a clearer policy direction is required. Of course it will not be easy. It will take courage and determination but it also has the potential to set us up as an island at the forefront of sustainable farming practices.

The Senator also talked about leakage. Ireland has businesses throughout the world and considering how the rest of the world looks at us, we are positioned very well. However, we are also vulnerable to being passed out by developing countries that will be able to implement changes to their infrastructure very quickly. The consumer is now demanding such changes.

There are some interesting ideas here but I am concerned about the overall frame. It is great to hear about the level of scientific work that is being done and the support for PhDs in some of these areas. Many of the areas our guests have talked about in the context of the mitigation toolkit are straightforwardly reducing emissions rather than trading emissions. I have concerns about the net-zero aspect. There are many measures at which our guests are looking, including soil nutrients, silvopasture and multi-species swards, that contribute to mitigating and reducing gross emissions from these particular areas of agriculture. That is positive and useful. I have some concern about inadvertent effects and perhaps our guests would elaborate in that regard.


We have lost contact with the Senator. We are having what they call "technical issues".

I am back. May I be allowed to come back in? I will have to leave in five minutes. I have a concern about woody riparian strips. Something we have talked about is ensuring we do not end up with thin areas because we know there are new grant schemes coming in that area from the forestry legislation that is going through at the moment. We do not want people removing existing biodiversity in order to benefit from a grant to plant a woody riparian strip. That is one concern I have in the mitigation area.

My main concern is the net-zero piece. We need to consider these things in the context of land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF. There are measures and practices at UN and international level to measure that. I am concerned by, for example, the partnership with Accenture and others. I am concerned about individual accounting systems that are calculating things as net zero when we know Ireland is currently a net emitter in terms of land use and forestry. We talk about incentives, and I am in favour of incentives and measures to support change in agriculture, but I am concerned about our carbon emissions in the context of the hard, ultimate science on which our survival depends. I am concerned about moving carbon around on spreadsheets. We are finding new ways to count carbon as sequestered, which is not helping us with our overall reduction targets but deals with carbon that was there already and is being relabelled. I would like to avoid situations which allow us to treat carbon as the incentive and to treat the carbon emission measurement system as the incentive structure rather than regarding our carbon emission limits as the outside frame within which our economy and agricultural activity sits. We must give people incentives in order to reduce those emissions. I worry about the trading carbon piece. When we make it a speculative commodity and find ways to offset emissions and get into that area, it is being used to incentivise economic change when economic change should be used to deliver the emission reduction budgets. How that is framed is important. I say that in the context of being in favour of investing in this area. Much of the science is about land use. Under the LULUCF approach, the idea of changing what we are doing with land is still a difficult subject in Ireland. We may have to consider using more land for crops for reasons of food security. We know that the current dairy model works very well for some businesses and large farmers but it does not work very well in giving security to many small farms. Taking a similar approach and applying the same kind of great science that is at the moment focused on the livestock area to land change measures, and using public subsidies in that area, is something to pursue. I know there is a bit of that in the silvopasture and targeted planting but there is space for further expansion in that regard. I just wanted to indicate my concerns about the net zero piece.

Mr. Richard Kennedy

I thank the Senator for her comments. We would be proposing woody riparian strips in areas whether they would benefit the overland flow of phosphates. It is not to incentivise but to show people where is the best place to plant them. I am not proposing that is supported. The current crisis has shown that nutrients are very valuable. The best way for farmers and the food industry to react to the current situation is by standing and looking inside their own fences.

That is what we are talking about. We propose that every farm would have its own footprint, but in order to do that first one must know and understand what it is. This whole carbon economy is a very complex area. I find it complex and I have been studying and working in it for years. I believe that there are far too many assumptions made and not enough based on science and fact. I would absolutely agree with the Senator that we should not and cannot play three card tricks, and we would be found out if it was smoke and mirrors. It should not be smoke and mirrors - and some of the Senators' colleagues have been to Dowth to see - and this is not. We look at the facts and data. There are lots of ways to be there with facts and data. It is unfair to say that Accenture are doing anything other than being involved in this than for the right reasons. They are very focused on the fact that they are being requested around the world to develop and work on sustainable solutions. They came to us and said "What you doing?" We said to them "Come and have a look". That is why they are interested. It is not the case that they are going to sell carbon credits. They are looking at processes for their customers. The customers have made the request.

From an economic point of view, I am seeing quite a lot how environmental, social and governance criteria, ESG, that companies must meet are driving economic impact and financial impact. It may be a cruel parallel, but I would see this almost like the tobacco and smoking industry of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The evidence is there and the research is there show that we can do this without damaging the environment, or without damaging it as much as we are. Forestry and farming the only two industries that actually have the ability to naturally sequester carbon. In order to do this, and to the Senator's point, we should baseline farms to understand exactly what that are doing today: measure what they do; measure the outcomes of what they do; verify this; and then report it to a global standard so that one is not double counting. That is what we would ultimately propose and it would put Irish farming in a different place and rather than an overall it would underpin. It is like comparing a profit and loss account for a company for one year to the profit and loss account for a week or a month. I say this because the variables, the variations, and the things that change, have the potential to ensure that Ireland can be most efficient, not alone in terms of our production or in underpinning an authentic transparent food production, but also in terms of a transparent and authentic carbon footprint for the food we produce.

I thank Mr. Kennedy.

I thank Mr. Kennedy for the submission and, as usual, for helping us. I was out at the Devenish place and learned a lot. There are a few things that need to be grasped in this. A lot of people think that they are carbon neutral within the city and that the only people who can solve a lot of this are the farmers. This is the first thing that people need to realise, that from the minute they open their eyes in the morning in the city there is nothing they can do about it, and we are not blaming them, but it is others who have to try to offset their problematic experience, be it sewage which I spoke about earlier, and where it goes, be it the sludge from water or be it the electricity that is generated and all of that. Every single bit of it is done in the countryside. An appreciation first of all should come for the farmer communities who are willing to put their shoulders to the wheel to offset not alone the own situations but also for those who are living in the urban areas are not able to do anything about it.

When we were out with Devenish the mixed species grasses were going well. Has more research come in on them? At the time, Mr. Kennedy had said Devenish was doing research on the length of time they would last. There was also a question mark, which I saw in one of the farming magazines, whereby some farmers believed that the butterfat might be down a bit. Is there any research on the likes of that?

When Mr. Kennedy was before the committee previously, he mentioned that we need the LiDAR system to count what we have and count where we are going. I believe the Office of Public Works is starting something in that regard this year. At the time, Mr. Kennedy mentioned that a certain number of square metres would be needed in each photograph to ensure that it was right. Will Mr. Kennedy remind us of that because we as a committee will probably write on that.

Does Devenish do anything on the different crops? We see now where the likes of wheat is problematic. Does Devenish do research on part of that for the farming community? It was interesting to hear Mr. Kennedy's analysis on carbon and that the farming community, as I believe myself, needs to have the benefit of their own farm and that somebody else is not whipping carbon credits away from them. I am aware that there is some research done on forestry in that regard. At the moment we are in a situation where more forestry is being cut than grown. The State can talk all it likes about the situation but the problem is that we have had a dysfunctional Department for a number of years that has let this deteriorate. The heart is gone out of it. If one mentions forestry now to farmers they run away because the paperwork is a mile long. At the moment if farmers want to apply for a forestry licence it is all about the environmental impact assessment appropriate assessments and screening out. It is all EU bureaucracy that is now coming in. We have seen this in turloughs and farmers are seeing it day by day. Is EU bureaucracy destroying a lot of this? It is actually banging back against resolving some of the climate issues and farmers have walked about away from it with the stuff that is there.

Mr. Richard Kennedy

I will leave the last issue to the end, but I will pick up on the Deputy's points in a different order. With regard to the butterfat, I have not seen any work on that. We will work with Teagasc on that. That is very simple because one can do the analysis and follow through. It is not something that we would have seen or expected.

On the persistency, I am not overly concerned about the persistency because of the performance we are getting. The persistency is coming through. It is more about getting farmers to adopt it and to change their management practices slightly.

I believe there is a real opportunity in crops. Having spoken with people in the last while, I would be focusing on crops such as beans and fava beans in particular. They are leguminous crops and within a good rotation it would be very valuable. Not alone do we need cereals such as wheat, barley and maize to be replaced, we also need and it would be very valuable to have protein sources. I commend the legislature on bringing through the crop incentives. It is going to be tight this year but I believe it is something we should continue with.

If someone was to inquire what the ask is, it is a carbon soil analysis and LiDAR, light detection and ranging, analysis to the requisite level across the country that would be available to industry - not just to Devenish and farmers but to industry. It is a phenomenal resource to farming because it measures what we have in the bank. It shows us what we own, what we have and what we have worked for against guesswork or otherwise. To be fair to the Northern Ireland Executive, it has done that and I think it is an incredible thing. It would set this island apart. It would be a very strong, definitive statement for us as a food-producing island to say we are taking this seriously, we are at the forefront of delivering sustainable solutions and we will build from here. We should talk about investing in future generations and rural economies. It is a little bit like some of the things that have been done in the past. People look back and ask whether that was the right thing to do. It is absolutely the right thing to do and particularly as we see the headwinds that are in front of us around carbon.

My fear of bureaucracy is that if we do not have strong policy and strong, positive proactive farming leadership on this then bureaucratic solutions will be imposed on us from outside, which is much worse. We have things we can learn from in the past and maybe from some of what the Deputy talked about around how we did our forestry or whatever. Consider what happened in terms of peat, however. The picture was painted for us well in advance but we did not take the proactive positive steps I think we can now with this. My concern is this. We talk about bureaucracy. Bureaucracy might be worse than where we are but when one is not allowed to do something, no matter how bureaucratic it is, that is the worst-case scenario.

As I said, we have the soils and we actually have the climate and temperatures. We have an island that has the potential to be baselined to deliver a starting point as to how we can deliver sustainable solutions, and where farmers can work together with one another and their communities and also with their processors and co-operatives to really build a sustainable food production system from the ground up. The world is changing at an incredible rate. As I said to Senator Higgins, the pressures and challenges that are being exerted on very large food producing companies around their environmental, social, and governance, ESG, requirements - they are not just commitments, they are requirements now - will have a massive impact. We can capitalise on that.

This was a really impressive presentation. Mr. Kennedy mentioned the words measuring and data and getting all this information together about carbon. I mentioned this with the previous contribution we had. Do we need to put an agency together so we can gather all that information in one place? As Mr. Kennedy said, everyone can gather it from industry to farmer. What if we were to look at that agency? Look at what the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, did for the dairy industry. It is now moving on to the beef industry. It gathered a huge amount of data and changed how we approach the industry going forward. It even brought in its own mechanism of measuring.

Is there a space at some level where we need to look at that for the entire ethos of our soils to ask what are and are not our peat soils, what are the pH levels in these soils, what are the phosphorous and potassium levels all the way down to grass measuring and where that ties in? If that was to happen, what does Mr. Kennedy think the actual economic benefit would be for the industry, the environment and society itself?

Mr. Richard Kennedy

The first thing I would say is that before we go there, we would need to set the baseline. We simply do what has been done in Northern Ireland because then once we have the baseline, we at least have a scope on which to set out what is required. Industry is to a large extent being driven and forced. There are two areas from a carbon point of view. There is the emissions trading scheme where large industry for energy has a requirement. That has developed itself but is being driven by the requirements. Again, however, there are two really key parts to that. One is the fact that it is verified. If one makes savings in that area or changes, we will say, from fossil fuel to renewable energy, it is verified. It is not just that someone says they did it. It is verified. Then, there is a monetary incentive to do that or a disincentive - whichever you want to call it.

My sense is that first of all, we have to identify what we must do and in doing that, we measure our baselines. Then, certainly, as that information comes in, if we look at the scheme in Northern Ireland, it is very interesting. They are now proposing that farmers do not have to join it but if they want to get the grants that are being constructed in Northern Ireland then they have to join. It is not that I am necessarily advocating that aspect but the first thing is to set out, achieve or measure and understand that baseline. Once we have that, we can set out the scope of what is required. One has to eat the proverbial elephant in bite-sized chunks and that is the first bite.

In terms of putting together an ICBF equivalent, I would not have any issue with it. Certainly, I agree that the ICBF's contribution has been phenomenal but I would first of all want to set out the scope. That is why I think a clearer direction of travel on carbon and carbon policy is very important. As I said, the other ask I would have is to baseline every hectare we have because as the Vice Chairman mentioned, it would pick up peatlands and others to understand where exactly we are on that.

I will make one other point. Ireland is unique because 21% of the land base - I think it is 21% but I can be corrected - is organic base, so it is peat. That is, therefore, unique in terms of other European countries and puts us in a unique position but it also is something we must address. We would see it as an opportunity. We would have spoken and met with Bord na Móna on this as well. Bord na Móna only owns roughly 7% of that peatland; it does not own 7% of that 21%.

I do not think there are any other contributions. I thank Mr. Kennedy very much for his contribution today, which has been very informative for both sides of the committee. Since there is no other business, the meeting stands adjourned.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.19 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 6 April 2022.