New targets have been set for farming in the new agri-food strategy to 2030.
The strategy was compiled by the Department of Agriculture with input from farm organisations, Teagasc and other industry stakeholders.
Sustainable food systems
The strategy’s central objective is that Ireland should become an international leader in sustainable food systems in the next decade.
A sustainable food system is profitable throughout (economic sustainability), has broad-based benefits for society (social sustainability) and has a positive or neutral impact on the natural environment (environmental sustainability).
There are key targets in the strategy aimed at developing a sustainable food system. They centre on the climate, water quality, biodiversity and air quality:
These four targets are to be delivered using a range of measures, with hard targets set out to 2030.
Among these targets are a 10% cut in methane from livestock by 2030, a 55,000t cut in chemical nitrogen use and the setting aside of 10% of farmed land for biodiversity by 2030.
Annual chemical nitrogen use is not to exceed 325,000t by 2030 under the strategy.
Current chemical nitrogen use is 380,500t, so this implies a cut of 55,500t is needed in nitrogen use by 2030.
Ten per cent of land for biodiversity
Some 10% of farmed land is to be prioritised for biodiversity under the strategy.
The most up-to-date Central Statistics Office (CSO) data on utilised agricultural area dates from 2016 and it says there is some 4,455,800ha of farmland in the country.
The strategy also wants to reduce the management intensity of a minimum 40,000ha of peat-based agricultural soils
This would mean that 445,580ha would be earmarked for biodiversity – an area slightly bigger than the county of Tipperary.
The strategy also wants to reduce the management intensity of a minimum 40,000ha of peat-based agricultural soils, with an ambition to substantially increase over the decade and genotype the entire national herd by 2030.
Organic farming and slurry
The area farmed for organics is to reach at least 7.5% of farmland by 2030. An early draft of the strategy seen by this newspaper last week set a target of 6% of organic farmland by 2030. However, this figure has since been increased to 7.5%. Currently, less than 2% of utilised agricultural area (UAA) Irish farmland, some 74,000ha, is under organic production.
Some 90% of all slurry application is to be carried out by low-emission equipment by 2027 and all external slurry stores are to be covered by 2027 to mitigate ammonia emissions.
National herd and biogenic methane
There is to be a biogenic methane (methane from livestock) reduction of between 24% and 47% by 2050, with an interim target of a minimum 10% reduction by 2030, which could result in a cut of up to 400,000head.
Previously a Climate Change Advisory Council report suggested that a cut to suckler cow numbers of 15% would result in a cut of 400,000head, based on 2018 cattle numbers. AgClimatise makes clear that an increase in the total national cattle herd above current levels will result in failure to achieve its targets, according to the strategy.
Under the auspices of the 2030 process, detailed plans are to be produced by the second quarter of 2022 “to manage the sustainable environmental footprint of the dairy and the beef sectors”.
Such plans should reduce total methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions, promote better pasture management including reducing chemical nitrogen use and increasing clover.
While acknowledging the comparatively low level of pesticide use in Ireland and continued compliance with the EU Sustainable Use Directive, the strategy says that Ireland will play an active and constructive role in developing measures to realise the European targets of a 50% reduction in pesticide use by 2030.
It adds that the use of MCPA
It said work should be advanced on generating new crop varieties through new plant breeding techniques, more widespread use of integrated pest management and crop rotations.
It adds that the use of MCPA and other herbicides should be reduced “to the maximum extent possible by implementing the principles of integrated pest management”.
More targeted agri-environmental schemes
It proposes more targeted agri-environmental results-based schemes under the CAP’s Rural Development Programme (RDP) to protect and enhance habitats and species and that there be consideration of a targeted results-based programme for high nature value (HNV) farmland.
Revised afforestation scheme
The strategy wants to examine options for afforestation on State-owned lands, building on initiatives from Coillte and Bord na Móna and place farmers at the centre of a new and improved afforestation scheme. This could see farmers plant trees along watercourses, plant new native woodlands and plant small forest areas.
Carbon farming offers a potential new source of income for farmers, but it is still in the early stages of development, the strategy says.
“Ag Climatise commits to a pilot scheme for on-farm carbon trading, to reward farmers for the public goods they are providing,” it says, noting that a “fuller understanding” of the sequestration potential on farms is required.
It plans to carry out a feasibility study on developing a voluntary carbon trading market.
Who devised this draft strategy?
Some 33 bodies were represented on the committee which developed the strategy: Department of Agriculture, Teagasc, IFA, ICSA, ICMSA, INHFA, Macra, Bord Bia, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Meat Industry Ireland, Ulster Bank, Musgraves, the Environmental Pillar (which then withdrew in February 2021), EnvEcon, Burren Programme, Sodexo Ireland, Yield Lab Europe, UCC, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Keelings, ICOS, Drinks Ireland, Diageo, Forest Industries Ireland, Balcas, Dairy Industry Ireland, Kerry, Dawn Farm Foods, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, UCD Institute for Food and Health, Enterprise Ireland, Devenish and Glanbia.
The strategy is now open for public consultation. You can submit your views on the strategy until 15 June 2021 by emailing 2030StrategyEnvironmentalConsultation@agriculture.gov.ie .