The dairy herd increasing by more than the suckler herd’s decline is not promising for farming meeting its agreed-upon emissions cut of 25% by 2030, the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) has warned.

This leaves the sector with “significant action” needed to change the trajectory of emissions over the next seven years, the body reported in its annual review.

In 2021, agriculture was responsible for 33% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and the CCAC pointed particularly to the dairy sector as an area for which it is “very concerned”.

The sheep sector, although having a low contribution to emissions overall, saw its greenhouse gas emissions rise last year too.

Farmer incentives

Farmers must be appropriately compensated for implementing the measures that reduce their carbon emissions, the CCAC reported.

It said that some emissions reduction measures can decrease farming activity, while maintaining or even increasing farmer margins, citing the conversion to organics as an example.

The policy group stated that indications from the Teagasc national farm survey and sustainability reports are only showing a “modest improvement” in farm efficiency and that the results of efforts to increase efficiency will only be seen after an “extended period” of time.

Forestry emissions

The body also looked with concern on the State’s forestry estate, a significant portion of which will be ready for harvesting between now and 2030.

Forestry lands will move from being a carbon sink to a carbon source in the “imminent” future, it projected.

The CCAC reported that the “sharp decline” seen in forestry planting rates continued into 2021, when the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector was responsible for 11% of total emissions, up one quarter from 1990 when afforestation rates were nearing their peak.

It was pointed out that there is still “considerable uncertainty” in the estimations of the emissions associated with changes in land use and land use management. However, ongoing research is adding to such an understanding.

A sectoral ceiling for LULUCF emissions remains to be set, but measures including rewetting and afforestation on mineral soils are likely to be LULUCF actions that farmers will be asked to carry out for that sector to meet its target.