Agriculture emissions target can be met if farmers show widespread support, Teagasc says

Sector tasked with decreasing greenhouse gas emission by 25% by 2030 in Government plan

A goal of reducing emissions from agriculture by 25 per cent by 2030 is achievable but only if the highest level of ambition is applied and matched by the widespread adoption of transformative measures by farmers, Teagasc has said.

The agriculture and food development authority has issued a revised marginal abatement cost curve (Macc) setting out options to assist farmers and the agriculture and food industries to reduce emissions. The publication will inform Government policy in the coming years.

Its modelling of current livestock numbers would see a 29 per cent decline in suckler cows but an 8 per cent increase in the dairy herd by 2030.

The agriculture sector must, under ceilings set out by the Government, reduce the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 17.25 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030 from a starting point of 23 million tonnes in 2018.


Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said the Macc looks at three scenarios with differing levels of agricultural activity, based on different projected livestock numbers up to 2030. All three scenarios involve Ireland having lower livestock numbers in 2030 than last year.

The mitigation of GHGs under these three scenarios (based on animal numbers) is assessed based on two different levels of uptake by farmers of mitigation measures – a “high” rate (pathway 1) and a “very high” rate (pathway 2).

Pathway 2 would see farmers achieving a three-month reduction in the finishing age of cattle across the herd; replacing 90 per cent of calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) fertiliser; 100 per cent use of protected urea; widespread use of feed additives to reduce methane in half of dairy cows.

The uptake of diversification options, which are predicted to “displace 140,000 livestock units”, include a switch to organics, increased afforestation, increased tillage, and biomass production to generate biomethane using anaerobic digesters, which will help decarbonise the energy sector.

The base case scenario, Scenario 1, predicts an 8 per cent growth in dairy cow numbers relative to last year’s numbers and a 29 per reduction in suckler cow numbers, which are kept especially for beef production, over the period to 2030. The model used to project numbers takes into account existing policies and potential future market forces.

The Teagasc projections show the 25 per cent reduction can be achieved under Scenario 1 if the pathway 2 approach is taken.

Teagasc director Prof Frank O’Mara said the publication shows “there is a technology pathway for the agriculture sector to meet its obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it requires a very high uptake of the currently available mitigation measures and future technologies to achieve that”.

The advisory body has developed a digital sustainability platform called AgNav, which its advisers will use with farmers to give them a number for their farm’s emissions and assist them in developing a plan to take climate action.

Mr McConalogue said achieving the emissions reduction target “is going to take a collective effort by farmers, advisers, educators and the whole agri industry”. He said Teagasc’s new Macc “sets out a pathway of technologies to achieve agriculture’s targets”.

“Farmers have already started on the journey, using protected urea, low emission slurry spreading, reducing nitrogen application and by incorporating clover into their grass swards,” he said, adding that he looked forward to seeing technologies that are in the research pipeline being ready for on-farm adoption in the near future.

Teagasc research officer Prof Gary Lanigan said the new Macc was “a menu of options; not a production system”. What was required now was to translate it into what a dairy farm or beef farm would look like in 2030.

“It’s transformative ... you won’t end up with the same agricultural system,” he added.

He confirmed reducing the age at which cattle are finished and the introduction of feed additives will be two of the key measures to cut emissions. The former, if achieved, could cut emissions by 15 per cent.

While use of additives still experimental, Prof Lanigan said, a range of products were expected to come on the market within three to four years.

The most significant “displacer” was likely to be biomethane, he said, but it was essential that there was a viable biomethane industry to support farmers.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times