The potential to achieve high levels of productivity from grazed grass gives Irish farmers a major competitive advantage over many of their European and global counterparts. Ireland has a comparative advantage in grass-based carbon efficient livestock production.
The EU Commission JRC report (2010) found that Ireland is the most carbon efficient producer in the EU per unit of dairy production, and the 5th most carbon efficient producer of beef per kg. Notwithstanding this, inherent challenges remain for the sector in terms of contributing to Ireland’s climate change and renewable energy targets. Throughout Europe, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture has proven difficult, with only a 1% reduction across the EU since 2005. While Irish agriculture emissions fell during the period 2005 to 2011, they have since risen, driven by larger herds and rising milk production reflecting the removal of milk quotas in 2015. However, while agriculture is contributing to emissions, it should also be seen part of the solution.
The Government’s policy position for the agriculture sector is an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. There are three strands to my Department’s approach to carbon neutrality:
1. reducing agricultural emissions;
2. increasing carbon sequestration; and
3. displacing and substituting fossil fuel and energy intensive materials.
The All-of-Government Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Disruption sets a series of step-up measures and underpinning actions and proposed targets for all sectors including the agriculture, forestry and land use sector. To achieve these challenging targets, it will require immediate action through early adoption and high levels of take-up of the identified actions across our 139,000 plus family farms.
Furthermore, Ireland is a world leader in areas such as sustainable auditing and carbon foot-printing under the Origin Green programme. In total, Bord Bia has cumulatively undertaken over 200,000 carbon footprint assessments on a national scale to date, a world first. 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. Therefore, the well-established and proven QA framework encompassing 33,000 farm visits per year offers huge potential to scale efforts to meet our climate challenges at farm level in particular with the implementation of the MACC measures.
I am confident that the agriculture sector as a whole will contribute significantly to Ireland’s decarbonisation.