The science around agricultural and land use emissions is playing catchup with the political climate policies, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA researcher Bernard Hyde said that the measurement of land use and farm emissions requires looking back over the last 30 years and beyond and that this work only began recently.

“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle for each year but each year is a different jigsaw,” he said.

He was speaking at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) Carbon Cycling, Measurement, Accounting and Policy symposium at Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford, on Wednesday 8 March.


Hyde said the EPA is coming from a position of having “very sparse, very loose” information on farm and land use emissions to having a more detailed picture.

This suggests the Government’s target of reducing agriculture’s emissions by 25% by 2030 doesn’t have a sound basis in terms of what emissions are actually coming from farms at present.

The EPA up until very recently didn’t have a detailed picture of the land use across Ireland, and therefore, nor did it have a detailed analogy of what emissions could be coming from where.

“Up until last week, we didn’t have a national cover map, with detail. We’re reliant on other bodies to provide us with the information we need,” he said.

While scientists are moving quickly to measure emissions released and sequestered on peatlands, in forestry and on tillage farms, grassland emissions are more difficult to calculate.

“Grassland is a whole different ball game. You need long-term datasets and there’s a lot of variability,” Hyde said.

Speaking alongside the EPA representative, Teagasc researcher Prof Gary Lanigan described how in one year where there may be drought, grassland can become a carbon source, rather than a sink. He said both the soil type under grass and its management greatly affect emissions.

Ultimately, Prof Lanigan highlighted that the “window is shortening” to measure land use and agricultural emissions and act on reducing them, with the effort required to do so, now getting “steeper”.

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