Every farmer in Ireland will be able to determine the level of carbon associated with their holding in the coming years and avail of a tool to help reduce emissions, under a new climate action strategy announced by Teagasc.
The agriculture and food development authority predicts some 50,000 farmers will initially have their carbon footprint identified with a view to then identifying actions to reduce emissions – especially of methane – and to enhance carbon storage.
A digital sustainability platform will enable farmers and advisers to benchmark current emissions on an individual farm and make a plan to reduce these. Under legally-binding carbon budgets, the agriculture sector must reduce emissions by 25 per cent by 2030.
Each farmer will be in a position to “know my number – make my plan”, said Teagasc director Prof Frank O’Mara. In time, the platform will also include carbon sequestration in soils, woodlands, forests and hedgerows.
“This will be a key national resource for the future,” Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said of the development.
To accelerate decisive action at farm level up to 2030, Teagasc plans to scale up research, advice services and education around reducing methane, increasing carbon capture, enhancing biodiversity, reducing nitrogen linked to fertilisers and adapting to make farming more climate resilient.
Speaking at the Teagasc campus in Ashtown, Co Dublin on Thursday, Mr McConalogue said the key to the sector meeting its climate ambitions was science-based.
“Farm families have been on a journey towards lower carbon systems for some time. We are now stepping forward those ambitions and we stand full square behind them on this future journey,” he added.
Ace in the sleeve
Mr McConalogue said the Government’s 2023 climate action plan, due to be finalised shortly, would be the first to set legal limits on the amount of carbon emissions the sector can emit.
“These budgets will challenge the sector like never before, and I have no doubt that research is key to unlocking the technologies that will be needed to drive down our emissions over the coming years and further improve the sustainability of our sector. The farmers of Ireland are now looking to the Government and to Teagasc for leadership to bridge the gap,” Mr McConalogue said.
A €1.3 billion National Forestry Programme would be important in terms of driving positive environmental improvements on farms, he predicted. “Forestry is our ace up the sleeve in meeting our hugely ambitious climate targets.”
Prof O’Mara said: “Our ambition is to deliver a world-leading climate advisory service for farmers and an accelerated research programme to address emissions reduction and carbon offsetting.” This will use the collective resources of Teagasc, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and Bord Bia to build a unique digital sustainability platform, he said.
Teagasc is also establishing a new “virtual centre” to co-ordinate climate research and innovation programmes across a range of institutions including third level colleges and accelerating efforts to bring “almost ready” and “early stage” technologies required for adoption at farm level to fruition.
“This will provide a central independent focal point in Ireland for the co-ordination and dissemination of agricultural climate change research and innovation to all stakeholders, including wider society. This will provide visible leadership, nationally and internationally in the area of agri-food climate research,” Prof O’Mara added.
“We want an agri-food industry that is meeting its climate commitments and is sustainable in all its dimensions, environmentally, economically and socially.”
Actions to cut agriculture emissions set out in the Teagasc climate strategy:
Greater use of red and white clover in grazing systems; improved soil fertility/health, reduce crude protein in bovine and pig diets, develop precision grazing technologies and new fertiliser technologies.
Identifying specific enteric methane emission factors for Irish grass-based systems; evaluation of feed additives and inhibitors; earlier slaughter of prime beef cattle; breeding lower enteric emitting animals; reducing methane emissions from slurry.
Identifying “Irish specific emission factors” related to soil type, land use and management; increased afforestation and the impact of afforestation on soil carbon fluxes, evaluate the influence of hedgerow and hedgerow management on “soil carbon fluxes”; increasing the use of cover crops in tillage; evaluate the influence of water table management/rewetting of organic soils on soil carbon emissions.
Enhancing biodiversity in all farming systems; including assessments of biodiversity in the national farm survey; developing effective farm-scale biodiversity indicators supported by use of digital technologies; improve biodiversity management plans for “high nature value” farming and forestry systems.
Increased activity in organic farming, horticulture, forestry and anaerobic digestion for biomethane production.
Production and management of resilient grasses and forages for the future Irish grass-based production systems; new crops and cropping systems; new pest and weed control options.
Circular Food System
Reducing food waste, increasing eco-friendly packaging and identifying alternative protein sources.
Regularly updating the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, known at the MACC, in collaboration with the EPA indicating Irish-specific emission factors in the national inventory, and contributing science-based policy advice on climate change, agriculture and land use at a national and international level.