Achieving environmental targets must be balanced with Irish agriculture’s role in producing high-quality, nutritious food at a reasonably low cost, IFA president Tim Cullinan has said.
Speaking at the Irish Climate Summit, Cullinan insisted that farmers supported climate action and were committed to playing their part in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
However, he added that policymakers could not underestimate the scale of the challenge.
"Co-investment must continue to support farmers to remain competitive and sustainable as they transition through these changes," he said.
"So often, simplistic soundbites are thrown out in an attempt to scaremonger and skewer.
"The fact is, however, that unlike other sectors, such as transport, today's agricultural GHG emissions are at a similar level to those in 1995."
Cullinan pointed to ongoing investment in the sector that will pay climate dividends over the next decade.
"To date, farmers have invested over €80m in low emission slurry spreading (LESS) equipment, while sales of protected urea have more than doubled in 2020.
"Additionally, Ireland's use of energy in agriculture is 56% the EU average.”
Commenting on the recently published climate bill, Cullinan said it was essential to consider Ireland’s targets in a global context.
"Our grass-based production system is extremely efficient from a carbon perspective. It makes no sense to drive food production elsewhere, resulting in carbon leakage as global food demand is increasing.
“This fact must be a key consideration," he said.
The IFA president welcomed recognition within the bill that measures to achieve a climate-neutral economy may not yet be fully identified.
He said these may evolve through innovation, developing scientific consensus and emerging technologies, which was particularly relevant to biogenic methane.
“The key issue in the months ahead is that there is full engagement with farmers.
"It's easy to set targets, but they must be realistic and achievable and strike the right balance between the three pillars of sustainability - environmental, economic and social," Cullinan said.