The Government could impose a herd cut of between 11% and 19%, compared to a 2018 base, in order to meet carbon budgets recommended by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) this week.

The carbon ceiling to be imposed on agriculture could cost up to €1.8bn in milk and beef output and cost tens of thousands of jobs in the sector.

The CCAC has set the carbon budget for the period 2021-2025 as 295Mt CO2e, an average greenhouse gas reduction of 4.8% per year.

The carbon budget for the period 2026-2030 is 200Mt CO2e, an average reduction of 8.3% in the 2026-2030 period.

These budgets will be enough to reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions by 51% by 2030.

While the CCAC will not decide the sectoral targets – that is the Government’s job – it has modelled several scenarios for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in the agricultural sector.

Its technical report details a range of five scenarios for agriculture, the mildest being “business as usual”, and the most extreme scenario being a 55% reduction in carbon emissions for the sector by 2030.

The most extreme scenario would see the country’s cattle herd cut by 47% and job losses of between 33,000 and 75,000 in the agri sector.

The CCAC, in its technical report, dismissed this 51% carbon cut scenario as “unfeasible”.

Herd cut

As revealed by the Irish Farmers Journal recently, the Government has indicated it will expect a carbon emissions cut of between 21% and 30% from agriculture.

Applying this to the CCAC’s scenarios, this suggests the Government is likely to impose a cut of between 11% and 19% on the national cattle herd by 2030, compared to 2018.

According to the CCAC’s report, a 20% reduction in GHG emissions would see the national cattle herd cut to 6.43m cattle in 2030. Cow numbers – beef and dairy combined – would reach 2.11m cows, a cut of 13%.

A 33% cut in greenhouse gas emissions would see the national herd fall to 5.88m cattle in 2030. The cow herd would fall to 1.84m cows, a cut of 24%. All of the scenarios above include farmers doing everything in the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC).

That’s a long list of actions including: higher-EBI dairy cows, improved beef genetics, extended grazing, improved nitrogen efficiency, clover inclusion in forage, protected urea, better animal health, altered crude protein in pig diets, low emission slurry spreading, slurry additives, using sexed semen, improved pasture management, cover crops and straw incorporation.

Milk and beef losses

Teagasc modelling in the CCAC report shows a loss of between €719m and €1.894bn in the combined value of milk and cattle if GHG emissions were to be cut by 20% and 33% respectively.

Jobs impact

Even at lower GHG reductions than the most extreme 55% cut, predicted job losses are high.

Teagasc analysis for the CCAC shows a 20% GHG reduction would, without intervention, result in potential job losses in the agri-food sector of between 6,000 and 13,000. Between 21,000 and 45,000 job losses would result from a scenario of 40% cuts in agricultural emissions.

On P32-37 this week, we publish an exclusive KPMG economic impact assessment on the Government’s plan to reduce agricultural emissions.