Farmers in Ireland will face losses of up to €2 billion a year if global warming is allowed to continue unchecked, according to new research commissioned by the Stop Climate Chaos coalition.
The research, carried out by Dr Stephen Flood at NUI Maynooth, found that winter rainfall is likely to increase by up to 17 per cent, while summer rainfall will decrease by up to 25 per cent, with the largest reductions in southern and eastern coastal areas.
These changes, said Dr Flood, would result in more drought, flooding, heavy rainfall and extreme temperatures that will, in turn, lead to changes in the range and prevalence of pests and diseases, and increased stress for animals.
There would also be changes in water availability and crop yields, and difficulties in providing sufficient resources for animals during certain periods – such as the fodder shortage in early summer this year when hay had to be imported from Britain and France.
The fodder crisis “exposed the potential vulnerabilities of the Irish livestock sector to adverse weather conditions”, according to Dr Flood’s report, which said the threat posed by climate changes to silage, hay and pasture outputs needed to be planned for.
The research – discussed at a roundtable yesterday with farming representatives and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney – stressed the need for his department to invest sufficient resources in monitoring “economically damaging pests and diseases in both livestock and crops”.
On the plus side, wheat and beet yields are projected to increase significantly by the middle of this century, and grain exports are likely to grow as other countries such as Hungary and Romania suffer significant decreases in crop yields due to water shortages.
Niamh Garvey of Trócaire, speaking for the coalition, which is a group of civil society organisations campaigning to ensure Ireland plays its part in preventing runaway climate change, said adaptation should include increasing crop diversity, altering planting and harvesting dates, implementing water-management strategies and supporting research on more climate-resilient crops.
“Climate change campaigners and farmers are not obvious bedfellows. Traditionally they have had an adversarial relationship, with each group believing the other fails to understand their point of view. This event aims to overcome the differences.”
Limiting climate change was even more important, she said.
"We look forward to a robust climate law being introduced by Government . . . with clearly identified targets for emissions reductions and provision for a properly independent committee to oversee progress."
Mr Coveney said he was conscious of the need to address the issue. There was a "large amount of work under way" in his department on mitigation measures in the context of Food Harvest 2020, the agri-food industry's expansion plan, he said.
“It is essential that everyone plays their part and, in this regard, I am delighted to see key representatives of both the farming and environmental sectors here today, intent on finding ways to work together to ensure the ongoing success of Irish agriculture.”
The report is available online at stopclimatechaos.ie.