Farmers will cull cows to meet climate targets if there are economic incentives to do so, according to Teagasc head of rural economy and development programme Dr Kevin Hanrahan.

Dr Hanrahan said that the Government carbon budget targets for agriculture may be achieved through the introduction of economic incentives around livestock breeding. He described these incentives as “implicit taxes”.

Dr Hanrahan was speaking following questioning by Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore during a meeting between the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action and representatives of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) on Tuesday.

Curtailed breeding

While noting that the agricultural sector will have to be economically compensated, Wicklow TD Jennifer Whitmore asked should farmers now be looking at reducing the national herd through reduced inseminations and pregnancies at this stage.

Responding, Dr Hanrahan, who was answering questions from TDs in relation to agriculture on behalf of the CCAC, said that such a move around reduced inseminations and pregnancies would be “inefficient”, as you would still have the cow left producing emissions.

If you reduce the incentive to farm certain activities, these farming activities will reduce

However, he went on to explain that the CCAC’s carbon budget modelling for agriculture does include some level of reduced activity.

“If you reduce the incentive to farm certain activities, these farming activities will reduce.”

He described how he foresees farmers adapting to these economic trends or incentives over time and that this may lead to more carbon efficient farming practices.

Dr Hanrahan said that Teagasc has completed analysis of the changes in both inputs and outputs for Irish farming that this may involve. He said such analysis includes detail around economic impact, jobs and even litres of milk produced.


Responding to questions on agriculture’s carbon reduction target of 22% to 30% from Richard Bruton TD, Dr Hanrahan said that the CCAC and Teagasc have looked at the different reduction end points and the pathways that Irish farming might take to achieve them.

“It’s clear from that analysis that the lower end of the range [22% reduction] could be feasible without major changes.”

However, he said that the higher end of the target range (30%) would involve changes in farming activity levels.

Dr Hanrahan warned that such measures would have an impact on the economic and employment role of the agriculture sector.

The Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action will hold three meetings with stakeholders this week to consider Ireland’s first carbon budgets for the period up to 2025.

The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) is set to come before the committee on Thursday.

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