The Signpost Advisory Programme began in June of this year.

The programme complements the Signpost Programme which supports the 125 Signpost demonstration farmers located throughout the country. It expands this support to the wider farming population, helping them to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The target set for the advisory programme is ambitious. The aim is to work with 50,000 farmers between now and 2030 to reduce their GHG emissions by 25% over the period.

Twenty-one climate advisers are now in place to help facilitate this change. Their role is to ensure that the steps outlined below happen on participating farms.

AgNav is the application Teagasc is using to help farmers establish their emissions number for their farm.

Data from ICBF and Bord Bia has been combined to estimate emissions on a farm basis and per kilo of milk or liveweight produced. At the moment, we’re focusing on dairy and beef emissions – other enterprises will come on stream in the coming months.

There are three GHGs – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The warming equivalent of all three is referenced against carbon dioxide to calculate the GHG emissions number.

While there are three gases we are trying to reduce, these are all expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-eq) to make it easier to compute.

Emissions are expressed as kg CO2-eq per kg of milk or meat or tonnes of CO2-eq per farm or tonnes of CO2-eq per hectare.

Typical emissions figures and high-performing emissions figures for dairy and beef farms are presented in Table 1.

Signpost enrolments

Teagasc’s climate advisers have started to enrol farmers in the Signpost Programme. At the end of October, over 7,000 farmers had already signed up to participate. The three most commonly selected actions are:

  • To increase the proportion of protected urea applied – the target is 90% of all fertiliser N used.
  • To reduce the quantity of fertiliser applied by approximately 15%.
  • To incorporate clover into their pastures.
  • Applied together, the three actions will reduce GHG emissions, depending on the farm, by an estimated 10% to 12% per kg of milk or beef.

    The Signpost Programme is open for business. We’re ready to help farmers on their path towards lowering their GHG emissions. Contact your local Teagasc office to enrol in the programme.

    Dairy beef case study

    We have investigated the impact of a series of actions taken on a dairy beef farm to reduce GHG emissions. The 55ha farm buys in 80 calves each year and finishes 78 cattle weighing 600kg/head at 24 months of age. Farm stocking rate is 1.62LU/ha and 85kg N/ha is applied of which 15% is protected urea. Three actions were taken:

  • Increase the proportion of protected urea used to 90%.
  • Improve soil fertility and reduce fertiliser N by 25%.
  • Reduce age at finishing from 24 to 23 months of age.
  • The results are presented in Table 2.

    The impact of the three actions combined results in a decrease of almost 10% in total farm emissions. Switching to protected urea is a quick and easy change.

    Improving soil fertility is more complex and a ‘slow burn’ because it takes time and there is a lag between when you start to improve fertility and there is an opportunity to reduce fertiliser N. Just as complex is reducing age at finishing.

    This requires improvements in husbandry and a change in the genetics of the calves purchased towards more ‘easy finishing’ strains.

    So, reducing your GHG footprint won’t happen overnight but taking a number of small actions over a period of time will accumulate to pay dividends in the longer term.