Director of research at Teagasc Frank O'Mara said that the target of 22% to 30% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2030 will be difficult, but not unachievable at a Signpost webinar on Friday.

"This is the lowest target that any sector received, but it is quite difficult in the ag sector," he said.

"A forced cut in livestock numbers would have a huge negative impact on rural incomes. We must reduce our emissions without a need for a forced cut in livestock numbers."

The new Teagasc director said that while Teagasc has an excellent platform for supporting and informing farmers, the decision to adopt to a more sustainable way of farming must be done by farmers themselves.

O'Mara said farmers must be incentivised and rewarded for the huge role they play.

"Adoption of measures at farm level is our priority. It's going to be a huge job for our advisory service," he said.

Economically sustainable

He said farmers must first of all be economically sustainable, environmentally sustainable and socially sustainable.

"There is a positive future ahead, we want to tell farmers not to be afraid," he said.

Some of the key solutions O'Mara namechecked as essential to meeting sectoral targets by 2030 include:

  • Improving nitrogen (N) use.
  • Sowing more clover to replace chemical N.
  • Increasing the use of protected urea and other low-emitting fertilisers.
  • Widespread use of feed additives.
  • Increase hedgerows and woodlands.
  • Animals who are more efficient.
  • O'Mara also highlighted the importance of research strategies.

    "There are many nearly-ready technologies, such as reducing slaughter age and using additives to reduce methane emissions."

    He said that more work needs to be done on additives for cows at pasture whereas research so far has been based on controlling methane while housed.

    Animal genetics

    He also said that there will be more focus on animal breeding.

    "Animals will be bred to reduce less methane and farmers will select for low-emitting genes."

    O'Mara alluded to other measures which will help to improve sustainability such as "planting and enhancing woodlands and hedgerows".

    Teagasc role

    One farmer in the virtual audience asked why farmers should follow Teagasc advice now, when farmers are going back to farming the way their grandparents did, alluding to the fact that the advice they were being given over the last 30 years no longer stands.

    O'Mara responded by saying it wasn’t fair that they are blamed for something that wasn’t heard tell of until recent years.

    "We can’t be blamed for greenhouse gases when we didn’t know they existed," he said.