Farmers scaling up efforts to reduce agricultural emissions – IFA

‘What often gets overlooked is positive and tangible change occurring at farm level’

There are strong indications farmers are scaling up actions to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) arising from farming and investing in proven technologies to reduce ammonia and nitrous oxide associated with fertiliser use, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association.

Sales of protected urea have increased significantly this year with almost 40,000 tonnes sold between January and June this year; compared to 21,000 tonnes in 2019, the IFA confirmed.

Protected urea is normal urea coated with “urease inhibitor” to reduce ammonia emissions. Unlike urea, it can be spread during the main grazing season.

Farmers have also continued to invest in Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESS), the IFA added. With grant support they have already invested an estimated €79.6 million in LESS equipment “such as trailing shoes and dribble bars”.


IFA dairy chairman Tom Phelan said there is a six to nine-month waiting list for such machinery, which clearly indicated the interest among farmers. "Next year, all farmers in receipt of a Nitrates derogation must spread their slurry with LESS – this is real change delivered by farmers," he added.

Switching to protected urea and using LESS equipment are two of the main actions at farm level identified by the Teagasc MACC abatement strategy to reduce GHGs and ammonia emissions associated with agriculture over the next decade.

IFA environment chairman Paul O’Brien said nobody was denying the scale of the climate challenge facing Irish farmers, but it was great to see farmers already adapting and getting on with it. “In the midst of extreme scrutiny of farming practices, what often gets overlooked is the positive and tangible change that is occurring at farm level,” he added.

‘Willing to change’

Mr O’Brien said these actions showed farmers were willing to change, but a focused plan was needed to encourage farmers to take up the measures identified in the MACC. “It is easy for the Government to set targets, but we need to continue to support farmers to translate these into actions on the ground,” he said.

With a strong research base, the agriculture and food development agency Teagasc is "well-positioned" to assist farmers in meeting the challenges of climate action, according to its director Prof Gerry Boyle.

At a briefing to outline Teagasc’s annual report for 2019, he said the outcomes of its research were often criticised by both the agri sector and environmentalists, which he said reflected its work was science based – though he accepted there was a huge challenge in communicating “complex issues” on climate change.

Measures outlined in the MACC strategy were estimated to reduce emissions by 1.85 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year between 2021 and 2030, if fully implemented, he noted. The largest contributors to abatement were using protected urea, improving dairy breeding – applying the economic breeding index (EBI) – and using low-emission slurry spreading.

Teagasc has produced guidelines for the dairy sector, identifying key actions to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint and to ensure the highest standards in animal welfare.

The treatment of methane emissions associated with livestock production would be a significant issue, he said. The splitting of methane from other emissions would happen in time, but could take up to 10 years.

Noting New Zealand has already embarked on splitting methane from other GHGs s when it was measuring emissions, Prof Boyle said it was "an important step" but added it would be "an important but a complex step to explain" – farmers have been calling for methane to be classified separately as it is a short-lived gas in the atmosphere compared to other GHGs, though it ultimately converts to CO2.

Teagasc research had shown that the actions which improve production efficiency could also contribute to environmental progress, Prof Boyle said. “With a strong research base behind them, Teagasc advisors were very well-positioned to assist farmers to meet the challenges ahead,” he added.

Meanwhile, Prof Boyle outlined the level of investment being made by Teagasc to help the agri-food industry be “Brexit ready” by enhancing research infrastructure and capacity.

A total of €10 million is being invested in Moorepark Technology Limited in Co Cork; €8.5 million in a National Food innovation hub also in Moorepark; €10 million in the National Consumer Foods centre in Ashtown, Co Dublin; and €6 million in Bia Innovator hub in Athenry, Co Galway. The €35 million programme was initiated in 2019 with the remainder due to be in place this year.

The authority was looking to support companies who want to diversify into other markets, particularly in Asia, and to develop niche products. The dairy sector was faced with a particular challenge with regard to the export of cheddar cheese to the UK as a result of Brexit. The authority was working to "develop an appetite for cheddar in China".

State grant-in-aid for current operations of Teagasc amounted to €130 million in 2019, with €5.3 million for capital purposes.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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