State should fund emission reducing technology to reduce methane, committee told

Range of options on reducing agriculture emissions to be brought to Cabinet

An emissions reduction fund, with up to €40 million allocated annually to support proven ways to reduce methane arising on Irish farms, should be introduced by the Government.

The move is necessary if Ireland is to meet demanding agricultural emission reduction targets for 2030, entrepreneur Michael Earls told the first ever joint meeting of the Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture and Committee for Environment and Climate on Thursday.

His Galway-based company EasyFix has succeeded in significantly reducing on-farm methane and ammonia emissions by using rubber mats in slated housing to improve cattle welfare and slurry tank treatment technology, which also reduces the threat of toxic gases by trapping ammonia.

Their installation deploys a network of pipes throughout the tank that injects oxygenated air, helping to break down the slurry and keep it in a liquid state. The fertiliser is on tap, rather than slurry having to be agitated and spread on land within a narrow timeframe.


While belching cattle are the main source of methane, he said their options had been independently shown to reduce on-farm emissions by 24 per cent; to cut artificial chemical fertilisers use by 25 per cent and reduce ammonia emissions by up to 49 per cent.

“There has been a lot of talk about how we can reduce emissions... much of this debate has generated more heat than light. We believe this should not be a simplistic binary debate that centres on the need to cull the national herd to meet our climate targets,” Mr Earls added.

“Looking at improving genetics or the use of feed additives are great ideas but there are solutions that are tried and tested and are currently available that can cut emissions radically,” he said. “We would urge both committees to support the concept of a dedicated emissions reduction fund put in place for Irish agriculture that ring fences funds and links them to emission reduction targets.”

Any delay in establishing a fund would leave farmers with unachievable targets to reach, Mr Earls said.

Cost curve

In response to Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton on why their solution was not in Teagasc's marginal abatement cost curve (MACC) of effective actions to reduce emissions, Ronan Boyle of EasyFix said the MACC was being reviewed and he was confident their mats and slurry technology would be included.

DCU specialist in low-carbon transition policy Paul Price said the small remaining global greenhouse gas (GHG) budget to stay within the Paris Agreement's 1.5-degree guardrail threshold for dangerous climate change was being depleted rapidly.

“Therefore, non-CO2 greenhouse gases, especially methane, and emissions from agriculture, forestry and land use must also be reduced as a matter of great urgency, otherwise the carbon budget for even rapid energy transition is unfeasibly small,” he warned.

Reducing methane was especially important because this could reverse its warming impact, unlike CO2 or nitrous oxide which accumulate, increasing their warming impact even as emissions decrease, he noted. Research indicated meeting a fair share of Ireland’s carbon budget required a 50 per cent reduction in methane emissions and a 50 per cent reduction in nitrous oxide emissions – in addition to cutting CO2 rapidly to net zero, before 2050.

“The bulk (93 per cent) of Irish emissions of both methane and nitrous oxide arise from agriculture, mostly from cattle through enteric fermentation and manure management. In per capita terms, Ireland has the highest methane and nitrous oxide emissions in the EU.”

Grass-based system

Ireland was doing well up to 2011 in containing those emissions through genuinely sustainable intensification, but the Food Harvest strategy and lifting of milk quotas led to rises in emissions ever since. Looking at high GHG activities, he said: "I'm afraid our ruminant grass-based system is to blame."

"This means any increase in milk or beef production now results in more emissions," Mr Price said. "Dairy cow numbers are anticipated to reach 1.8 million by 2025, exceeding Teagasc road map projections and requiring more fertiliser and feed inputs."

On food security, Mr Price said the Ukraine war had led to a global crisis where the poorest people on the planet had to be fed. This was not going to be achieved with beef and milk. Grain and legumes were needed, which was another reason to limit animal production.

Agriculture committee chairman Jackie Cahill said technology could be part of the "can do" in achieving emission reduction targets in farming and ensuring a sustainable industry, while addressing climate change and food security issues.

The joint recommendations from the committees would be submitted to the Cabinet for consideration, he confirmed.

Environment and Climate Action Committee chairman Brian Leddin said he could see the merits of a targeted fund supporting emissions reductions, and the case for "a bottom-up approach on farms using proven technology to help achieve Government objectives".

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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