Ammonia emissions declined in 2020 relative to the preceding years across all farm systems, according to Teagasc.

Teagasc rural economy and development programme’s Dr Cathal Buckley said: "Data which tracks farm management decisions indicates a significant movement towards low emissions slurry spreading methods and this is helping to reduce ammonia emissions."

Buckley was speaking on Tuesday following the launch of the latest Teagasc Sustainability Report, which covers the year 2020.

The report uses the Teagasc National Farm Survey to track the performance of dairy, cattle, sheep and tillage farms across Ireland in improving their economic, environmental and social sustainability.

Sustainability paradox

Dr Buckley described a "sustainability paradox" when survey results are examined by farm systems.

"Dairy farms have a higher level of economic and social sustainability compared to most other farm systems, but also have higher levels of environmental emissions.

"By contrast, drystock farms have lower levels of economic and social sustainability, but also have much lower levels of environmental emissions."

He highlighted that tillage farms lie in between dairy and drystock farms in terms of economic sustainability, but also have "low levels of environmental emissions."

Dairying on top

Comparing farm performance over recent years, head of the agricultural economics and farm surveys department in Teagasc and co-author of the report, Trevor Donnellan, noted: "Dairying continues to be the powerhouse when it comes to economic sustainability, compared to other farm systems."

He outlined how average dairy farm incomes far exceed drystock systems and are also ahead of tillage farm incomes.

However, Donnellan, noted that "on the flip side" dairy farmers typically have a less favourable work-life balance, typically working longer hours than farmers in other systems.

Emissions reduction

The report co-author said the data indicates that dairy farmers continue to improve their environmental efficiency, with lower levels of greenhouse gases generated per tonne of product produced.

However, he said these efficiencies are being overridden by a rising dairy cow population.

"In spite of the improved emissions efficiency, total dairy farm emissions continue to increase, although emissions per hectare remained constant on the back of increased area farmed."

Commenting on the release of the report, Teagasc director Professor Frank O’Mara stated: "The extensive detail available in the Teagasc Sustainability Report provides policymakers with valuable information for policy design and development.

"In particular, the knowledge developed through this initiative will assist agriculture in meeting its environmental targets."