There is simply no way to achieve any level of a carbon emissions reduction beyond 18% or thereabouts in the agriculture sector without resorting to cutting livestock numbers.

Even if a 21% cut in emissions had been agreed, a reduction in the beef and dairy cattle herds of 6% and 5%, respectively, would be required with an economic cost to the economy of €1.1bn.

When KPMG, commissioned by the Irish Farmers Journal, modelled a 30% cut last year, it found that it could only be delivered with a 22% cut in the beef herd and an 18% cut in the dairy herd.

A cut of 25%

Finishing up with a 25% cut in emissions will mean a loss somewhere between €1.1bn and €3.9bn, potentially somewhere in the region of €2.5bn, if a straight mathematical calculation is applied.

Using the same formula, we could expect a potential reduction in the beef cattle herd of around 13% and 11% in the dairy herd.

This will come at a cost to farm incomes, estimated at potentially 21% for beef farmers and 15% for dairy farmers, based on dividing the difference between the cost of a 21% reduction and a 30% reduction.

What next?

The legally binding emissions ceiling is now set, but there is no plan in place to deliver it.

Both the beef and dairy sectors, the main sources of emissions, have working groups in place, in the form of the Food Vision groupings, and encouraging less cattle is a recurring theme.

Under the next CAP in 2023, there are huge incentives for farmers to convert to organic farming and, unpalatable though it may be for farmers with a basic instinct to produce, it is an option that will have to be considered.

One thing is absolutely certain, this emissions reduction, unlike any of the other cuts, weakens the farm business and has a cost.

There isn’t the option of switching from diesel cars to electric or installing a wind turbine to replace heating oil; achieving this target can only be done with less production.