Ireland’s dairy cow numbers in December 2021, at 1.505m head, were “similar to what it was almost 40 years ago” in 1984 when there was 1.523m head, says the Agricultural Science Association (ASA).

Referencing the figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) database, ASA president Dr George Ramsbottom insisted that “dairy cow numbers haven’t exploded”.

“The introduction of milk quotas in 1984 resulted in a decline in cow numbers to approximately 1m in the early 2000s and their recovery was prompted by quota removal in 2015,” he said.

Calling for commentators on agricultural emissions to “stick to the facts”, Dr Ramsbottom also highlighted the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own data that shows agriculture produced 23,097kt of CO2 equivalent in 2021, but also produced 22,933kt of CO2 equivalent in 1998.

He said this shows that “we haven’t seen a big increase in emissions from agriculture either”.

The ASA president was speaking at the launch of the association’s annual conference, which will be held in person for the first time since 2019.

The event for ASA’s 1,650 members will take place in Kilkenny on Thursday 8 September 2022.

More reasoned debate

Dr Ramsbottom called for a more reasoned debate around agriculture emissions and pointed out that they have hardly increased in the last 20 years.

Regardless of this, he said Irish agricultural scientists are playing a pivotal role in the development and adoption of the technologies needed to reduce emissions from agriculture.

He said that some of these technologies are already “ready to go” and described the role of using protected urea, a form of fertiliser nitrogen.

The ASA president said such fertiliser has 70% lower greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional nitrogen fertilisers.

Dr Ramsbottom said farmers can “take this further still” by establishing white clover in their grass swards, which he said will reduce the quantity of artificial fertiliser nitrogen by up to 50%.


After two years of virtual events, the theme of the ASA’s in-person 2022 annual conference is ‘Science at the forefront of agricultural sustainability’.

FBD Insurance chair Michael Berkery, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Agricultural Science Association (ASA) president Dr George Ramsbottom at the formal launch of the association's conference to be held 8 September. FBD Insurance will sponsor the event. \ Lorraine O’Sullivan

“It comes at a time of tremendous change, with an ambitious 25% reduction in emissions set for Irish agriculture. Agricultural science graduates have and will continue to be at the vanguard of supporting the industry as it adapts to the targets set,” said Dr Ramsbottom.

The conference will include discussion on the 25% emissions reduction legally binding ceiling with national and international experts.

Sessions will focus on European and international perspectives on the role of science in sustainable agriculture, the roles of training, extension and marketing in sustainable agriculture and the work of farmers and agri professionals to incorporate sustainability into their work.

The ASA is the professional body for graduates in agricultural, horticultural, forestry, environmental and food science with 1,650 members operating in Government departments, research, advisory, education and training, agri business, rural organisations, banking and the media.

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