Last week, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan reiterated the Government’s target to develop 5.7 terawatt hours of biomethane from anaerobic digestion (AD) plants by 2030. This ambitious target would require between 150-200 large-scale agricultural AD plants to be developed in eight years, which would supply around 10% of Ireland’s total gas demand.

This pace of development would require a level of buy-in from farmers, industry and the community not seen since the development of the co-operative movement in the early 1900s. Unfortunately however, despite Minister Ryan’s efforts to persuade farmers that AD will be a viable alternative income stream, there is still no sign of a support scheme to kick start the industry.

Across Europe, multibillion euro support schemes are being rolled out to ramp up the construction of agricultural AD plants. This is typically in the form of capital grants and/or 10-20 guaranteed support payments.

Despite clear instructions from Europe under its REPowerEU plan, the Government still hasn’t given an indication of what, if any, supports for the industry will be introduced – or when. With a lead-in time of anywhere from three to six years per plant, Minister Ryan is cutting it fine if he wants to realise his vision for the industry.

One would be cynical in thinking that Minister Ryan’s new-found passion for AD is nothing more than a well thought out marketing strategy to sell the prospects of reducing livestock numbers in order to meet our 2030 emission reduction targets.

This week's cartoon

/Jim Cogan

Vision group sees no role for bulls

Also in this week's edition, Declan O’Brien details the recommendations in the interim report of the Food Vision beef and sheep group . Of the 17 measures recommended to reduce emissions in beef production, all are focused inside the farm gate – either requiring investment, changes to management practices and/or reduction in output.

Within it, there is no mention of the fact that Teagasc research shows that young bull beef systems can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 32% compared with a typical 24-month steer system.

The challenges put forward around eating quality and market access are not strong enough to simply ignore the opportunity that bull beef systems present to tackle emissions.

Farmer representatives in the group should challenge the meat industry to come forward with solutions – especially in relation to poorer conformed animals where a high percentage of the carcase is sold as mince.

Overall, the recommendations follow a similar line to those of the dairy group with lower nitrogen levels and voluntary herd reductions proposed. While reduction schemes have met resistance in the dairy sector, changes in the CAP will force more intensive suckler farmers to reduce numbers.

A properly designed and well-funded scheme for sucklers would be a more welcome approach than a strategy of grinding farmers out of production through negative subsidies that erode financial supports.

Calf management under the spotlight

The discovery of calf remains on a farm in south Limerick highlights the necessity of having proper regulations, traceability and oversight to protect farmers’ businesses across the country.

Not alone does this regulation protect brand image but – even more importantly – it protects the livelihoods of livestock farmers up and down the country that would go hungry themselves before stock would suffer.

It is positive to see rural people and communities calling out when there appears to be a problem because hiding and covering up is of no benefit to anybody.