Ireland is internationally recognised as having one of the most carbon efficient systems of food production in the EU, and when compared to other EU countries Ireland has a comparative advantage in grass-based carbon efficient livestock production.
Innovations unique to Ireland such as the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP), refining Economic Breeding Indexes (EBIs) for our dairy animals, producing Carbon Navigators for our dairy, beef and sheep farms; the Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme, the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) and initiatives such as Origin Green, Quality Assurance schemes and Knowledge Transfer Schemes all contribute to lowering the carbon footprint of the sector.
There are inherent challenges in affecting climate emission reductions in the sector and we must recognise the challenge we face as a food producing country while at the same time acknowledging that the sector should be seen as part of the solution. The Teagasc Sustainability Survey shows that the top performing third of farms emitted, on average, 9.6 kg CO2 equivalent per kg beef, compared with 14.9 kg for the bottom performing third of cattle farms. Reducing this variability is a real opportunity to make progress in reducing emissions from cattle production in Ireland. This will not alone reduce our emissions but also improve economic return on these farms.
The Government’s policy position for the agriculture sector is an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise our capacity for sustainable food production but is also cognisant of the important economical contribution agriculture makes to our economy and to the economy of rural Ireland.
There are three strands to my Department’s approach to carbon neutrality:
i. reducing agricultural emissions;
ii. increasing carbon sequestration and
iii. displacing and substituting fossil fuel and energy intensive materials.
Production efficiency improvements, where we seek to implement new innovations to increase output while maintaining or reducing inputs, are a core part of the efforts being undertaken by the agricultural sector. As an example of my continued focus on ensuring the lowering of the carbon footprint of the agriculture sector, I have recently launched a Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot scheme that builds on the success of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme with a funding provision of €20m in 2019. This new scheme is targeted at suckler farmers and specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of beef production.
My Department continues to review options that will enable our farmers to transition to a low carbon economy while also being aware of the need to maintain economic competitiveness and increase our agricultural output.