CO2 emissions could be cut by 6% through on-farm efficiencies

Bord Bia report reveals wide variation in emissions across beef and dairy sectors

Greenhouse gas emissions from Irish agriculture could be reduced by 6 per cent if under-performing beef and dairy farms were brought back in line with the national average, according to Bord Bia.

The agency’s Origin Green sustainability report reveals a wide variation in emissions across the beef and dairy sectors here because of varying production techniques.

Globally, 10-12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture but in Ireland the figure is closer to a third because of the relatively large beef and dairy herds.

The Government is lobbying Brussels to have Ireland treated as a special case in the setting of EU emissions targets for 2030 ahead of the upcoming climate talks in Paris.


Bord Bia’s report said bringing beef and dairy farms currently running behind up to the average could potentially reduce emissions by almost one million tonnes of CO2 annually, which equates to 6 per cent of total emissions from agriculture.

It also noted that if the carbon footprint of the beef herd was reduced by 10 per cent, it could generate improved on-farm income of €300 million per year.

The report said Ireland’s dairy herd already enjoyed the joint-lowest footprint in the EU, while the beef herd was ranked fifth.

However, using the metric of emissions per hectare, Ireland was ranked fifth highest in the EU in a recent report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Bord Bia’s report was launched at the opening of a two-day global sustainability conference taking place in Dublin’s Convention Centre.

Since it was established in 2012, more than 55,000 Irish farms and 122 food and drink companies have become members of the programme, which commits them sustainability targets around raw material sourcing, manufacturing processes and social sustainability.

Participating farms are audited and carbon-footprinted once every 18 months as part of the programme, with nearly 90,000 carbon assessments already carried out.

"No other country anywhere is carbon foot-printing its farms on, what is, in effect, a national scale. And we are not just doing this once; we are doing it routinely over an 18-month cycle," Bord Bia's Aidan Cotter said.

“This is a process of measurement, feedback and continuous improvement. Farms are also measured on their performance around water conservation and biodiversity, as well as on animal health and welfare and on food safety,” he added.

Tom Arnold, director general of the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), said the Bord Bia report identified significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from beef farming through greater on-farm efficiencies.

“In addition to this we would see significant opportunities for beef farmers to consider alternative lands uses such as forestry on some of their land,” he said.

“ This could result in a double carbon dividend of reducing emissions from beef farming and while sequestering emissions in forestry at the same time, allowing head room for Ireland in meeting strict EU emissions reduction targets,” Mr Arnold added.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times