Farmers who participated in the Smart Farming initiative in 2020 identified average greenhouse gas emission reductions of 9 per cent and cost savings of €5,600, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).
Smart Farming is a voluntary resource efficiency programme led by the IFA in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency.
IFA president Tim Cullinan said programmes like Smart Farming that work with farmers to deliver change at farm level had never been so important. "Smart Farming demonstrates that improving efficiency can deliver significant cost savings as well as emission reductions, without negatively impacting productivity on farms," he said.
“Smart Farming connects farmers with professional agronomists who provide the latest advice under the eight thematic areas, including grassland management, soil fertility, energy use and feed management.”
He said, however, achieving net-zero emissions in farming was a huge challenge. “There is no silver bullet; it will require programmes like Smart Farming that give farmers confidence that investing in mitigation technologies or changing farming practices won’t affect their competitiveness. Instead, they can save money while improving farm sustainability,” he added.
EPA director-general Laura Burke said the EPA's State of the Environment Report, published last year, called for the agriculture sector to go beyond improving efficiencies and focus on reducing total emissions. "They can do this by breaking the link between animal numbers, fertiliser use and deteriorating water quality," she added.
“The Smart Farming programme provides practical actions that protect the environment while also delivering significant savings. Business-as-usual scenarios will not tackle environmental issues, and the EPA encourages farmers to engage with Smart Farming and adopt more sustainable practices,” she said.
Encouraging farmers to engage with Smart Farming and to adopt more sustainable practices, she underlined business-as-usual scenarios would not tackle environmental issues.
In 2020, the most significant savings came from improving soil fertility (on average 29 per cent of the savings), followed by grassland management (19 per cent of savings) and energy (18 per cent of savings). The results show the importance of soil and grassland management to farm profitability and climate action.
Smart Farming has updated two guidance notes on grassland and energy, which gather the latest expert knowledge from Ireland’s leading academic and advisory bodies, State agencies and technical institutions.
The grassland guidance shows better grassland management can increase farm profitability by €250 to €350 per hectare. Farmers can achieve energy savings by assessing their energy bills and energy demands and following the guide’s advice.
The IFA is holding a briefing for farmers interested in signing up for the 2021 programme on Thursday, April 1st. Details are at www.ifa.ie/SF2021