There is an old saying “to be careful what you wish for”, and perhaps it is something that those who have supported and pushed for NI to adopt a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2045 should now reflect on.
The analysis of the economic impact on NI of ignoring best advice and instead going for a 2045 target as set out in the private member’s bill currently being considered by the NI Assembly, is stark.
Beef, dairy and sheep farming would be virtually wiped out by that date.
Undertaken by business consultancy firm, KPMG, the analysis cannot be dismissed as some sort of attempt to get farmers off the hook of climate change.
But it should also be acknowledged that it is a worst case scenario presented by KPMG, and as technology and science improves, there will be more opportunities to mitigate agriculture-related emissions.
What is important is that as an industry we are given the chance to explore those opportunities, not get shackled with an unrealistic target right from the start.
The key issue for NI agriculture is biogenic methane produced from ruminant animals. While as an industry we have tried to point out that the carbon released to the atmosphere in this gas is part of a natural biological cycle, it is an argument that many either fail to grasp or conveniently ignore.
Yet the KPMG analysis shows that we are in danger of being taken down a path where tens of thousands of acres of land is abandoned to rushes, the only farming left in NI is intensive pig and poultry production, and imports make up the gap left on retail shelves.
For those who think the answer to climate change is to switch from livestock to plant-based diets should note a line from p20 of the KPMG report. It points to modelling work which shows that when dairy is replaced by alternatives of a similar nutritional value, there is little or no accompanying reduction in carbon emissions.