My Department has a number of schemes available to farmers to facilitate their transition towards a low carbon economy.
These include initiatives that address efficiency improvement and mitigation, sequestration of carbon and also the provision of biomass towards energy generation.
The Origin Green Farm Sustainability and Quality Assurance schemes have at their core an independent farm audit where the farmer receives a feedback report on his or her farm’s performance. This allows them to make informed decisions on improving the sustainability of their farms while also improving their efficiency and farm viability. Knowledge Transfer schemes, funded under the Rural Development Programme (RDP), are essential in facilitating the transfer of information from research and advisory services to farmer discussion group networks and cover a range of topics related to sustainability and climate mitigation.
Under the Rural Development Programme (RDP), supports are included to help farmers improve their farm’s environmental performance. The Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment scheme (GLAS) includes specific measures to support climate change objectives, whilst our Organic Farming scheme supports organic farming as an alternative farming system contributing to improving soil quality and mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
Improving breeding and maintaining the health of livestock is also very important to achieving efficiency and managing emissions. This is actively supported through our Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP). This Programme ranks the efficiency of beef breeding animals on a star based system, with 5-star being the most efficient. Building on the success of this Programme I have just announced a new pilot scheme - The Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) – which will be targeted at suckler farmers and specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of beef production by measuring the weaning efficiency of suckler cows. Farmers will get detailed feedback on the performance of individual animals allowing them to identify the most productive cows in their herd. On the Dairy side, the Economic Breeding Index is identifying the most efficient animals for grass based production system.
I would also mention the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS). This scheme supports capital investment to promote sustainability such as low emissions slurry spreading equipment and energy efficiency support measures.
In terms of sequestration, or the capturing of carbon, our most significant intervention is the national afforestation programme. Afforestation and forests also play a key role in replacing energy intensive materials and providing sustainable renewable biomass to the energy sector. Since 1990 almost 312,000 hectares have been afforested primarily by farmers with supports from my Department, which represents a 40% increase in forest cover. It is intended to expand our overall forest estate from 11% to 18% by 2050. We are therefore investing heavily in the Afforestation Scheme to encourage landowners to establish forests on their land. The Government has recently approved significant improvements in grant and premium rates here under the agroforestry and forestry for fibre options.
My department continues to review the types of schemes that will enable our farmers to transition to a low carbon economy. Higher ambition on environmental and climate action are part of the new CAP, post 2020, and it is proposed that 40% of the overall CAP budget will contribute to climate action. This will require farmers to achieve a higher level of environmental ambition through both mandatory and incentive-based measures as part of their transition to a low carbon economy and society.