Any proposed changes arising from the new climate action bill must be agreed upon with farmers, IFA president Tim Cullinan has said.

Cullinan said that farmers and rural Ireland support climate action.

“I believe that the vast majority of Irish citizens are proud of our farming and the food we produce and want to see the sector continuing to flourish sustainably,” he told the IFA’s smart farming webinar on Thursday.

“There are several important provisions in the new climate bill that policymakers will have to consider, which will protect the farming sector,” he said.

The new climate bill states that in implementing the bill, the Minister “shall” have regard to “the special economic and social role of agriculture including with regards to the distinct characteristics of biogenic methane”.

Carbon leakage

It also says that the Minister shall have regard to the risk of “carbon leakage”, the IFA said, resulting in more emissions in other countries as a result of reductions.

“Our grass-based production system is extremely efficient from a carbon perspective. It makes no sense to drive food production elsewhere, which will certainly result in carbon leakage as global food demand is increasing. The Minister is required to take this into account when framing any new targets,” Cullinan said.

Cattle numbers

The IFA president said that the suggestion in some quarters that the number of cattle in Ireland will reduce by 51% due to the climate bill is nonsense.

“The draft agri-food strategy published at the weekend proposes a 10% reduction in biogenic methane. This target will be very challenging, but I believe that we can achieve this by adapting practices and developing technology while still developing our sector.

“The key issue in the weeks and months ahead is that there is full engagement with farmers on any proposals.

“It’s easy to set targets, but they must be realistic and achievable and strike the right balance between the three pillars of sustainability - environmental, economic and social,” he said.