The Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) guidelines provided as part of the Government’s CAP consultation have a new entrant right at the top of the list.
GAEC 1 describes the need for “maintenance of permanent grassland” and the “general safeguard against conversion to other agricultural uses to preserve carbon stock”.
Meanwhile, Ag Climatise and Food Vision 2030 call to at least maintain, if not increase, tillage land area.
Confusion and disappointment abound, but there is hope that this GAEC will be managed at national level to ensure that safeguarding tillage area is prioritised.
What do other the policies say?
Action 10 in Ag Climatise outlines an aim to: “Increase the area under tillage production above the current area of approximately 300,000ha by 2030, producing more native grown grains and legumes for the livestock industry, while further enhancing the environmental credentials of the sector.”
Meanwhile, Food Vision 2030 states: “It proposes expansion in nature-based production systems, tillage, horticulture and organic production.”
What defines permanent pasture?
So what defines permanent pasture? Is land that is reseeded regularly classed as permanent pasture and how long does it have to be uncultivated to be defined as permanent pasture?
According to Eurostat, permanent grassland is “land used permanently (for several consecutive years, normally five years or more) to grow herbaceous fodder, forage or energy purpose crops, through cultivation (sown) or naturally (self-seeded), and which is not included in the crop rotation on the holding”.
What’s the reason for the GAEC?
The reason for the GAEC is to preserve carbon stocks, but as it stands will it really do that?
Irish agricultural soils have the potential to be massive carbon stores. Teagasc research on heavy soils showed that carbon storage in the top 30cm of these soils was at 77.4% saturation, while the second 30cm of soil was only at 21.5% saturation potential and the next 30cm was at 10.1% saturation potential. So there is plenty of room for more carbon in that soil.
Land which is being reseeded regularly will release carbon during cultivation, the same as cultivating for a tillage crop would
However, research from Teagasc’s Solohead Farm has shown that where farmers are reseeding and trying to maintain clover in the swards to reduce nitrogen use, while also carrying out drainage, soil carbon stocks remained unchanged over a 20-year period.
Land which is being reseeded regularly will release carbon during cultivation, the same as cultivating for a tillage crop would.
Do the benefits of grassland in a tillage rotation outweigh the disadvantages?
It is important then to wonder what is wrong with converting grassland to tillage when the enterprise carries a much lower carbon footprint – eight times less that of dairy and four times less that of beef.
It is important to have grassland for planting potatoes in and for planting premium crops like gluten-free oats
Could the low emissions of the tillage sector not cancel out any issues with carbon release from the soil and the higher emissions from other sectors using that grassland?
Carbon release from the soil can also be reduced by using minimum tillage and limiting the carbon release from the soil.
Catch crops planted between tillage crops sequester large amounts of carbon and many tillage farmers are estimated to be sequestering more carbon than they are producing.
Grassland is also an extremely good crop to have in a tillage rotation as tillage crops planted following grassland often require far less nitrogen fertiliser for a number of years after conversion.
It is important to have grassland for planting potatoes in and for planting premium crops like gluten-free oats which provide farmers with higher grain prices.
Management at national level
It is important to note that this GAEC is already implemented in the current CAP (Article 45 (2) of 1307/2013) and this requirement is managed at national level.
The placing of the suggestion as the first of the GAEC conditions sends a message, but hopefully this regulation will continue to be managed sensibly at national level.
If the target of growing 40,000ha of home-grown beans set out in Ag Climatise is to be met, land will have to come from somewhere.