Fewer cattle and a quadrupling of forestry targets could be needed to drive the farming sector towards the contribution it must make towards economy-wide net zero emissions, a major report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week has stated.
The report put the diversification of land use central to cutting farming emissions and sequestering carbon, although it does claim that there is a “critical gap in research” in the potential of land to offset emissions.
The EPA-led report stated that reducing livestock numbers will “likely be necessary” to achieve and maintain the “deep emissions cuts” needed to meet climate targets, as current policies will fall short of taking the State to net zero.
Areas currently under grassland could be converted to forestry, peatlands could be rewet and more land allocated to biodiversity, the report maintained.
The levels of forestry cited as being needed in the report are an “unprecedented” 25,000ha to 35,000ha of new forestry each year.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal at the report’s launch, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan stated that these diversification options will not mean that farmers cease farming, and that some options could provide an income boost to family farms.
“Diversifying into anaerobic digestion where we pay farmers for their skills in helping provide the grass feedstock for that,” Minister Ryan said.
“Diversifying into solar energy and other renewable powers, which is already happening.
“Diversifying in the new forestry programme where we give really good premiums to support agro-forestry and to support farmers not to stop farming, but to put a hectare in or 2ha to help improve water quality in a nearby stream.”
Higher economic breeding index (EBI), improved animal health and more efficient feeding strategies were all listed as being important in efforts to reduce emissions.
Methane-reducing feed additives and the use of protected urea were mentioned as among the new developments which still remain at the “early stages of implementation” in Irish agriculture.
It was also acknowledged that the economic, social and political dimensions of climate policy need to be considered.
The report found that climate change will affect “all aspects of Irish agriculture”, from a higher susceptibility to pests and diseases, to an increased incidence of extreme weather events.
The report was led by the EPA, compiled by an extensive team of climate researchers and was funded primarily by the Department of the Environment.
The EPA stated that it represents the first time that a “comprehensive and authoritative” assessment has been completed on Ireland’s current situation regarding climate action, challenges and knowledge on the subject.
It is intended to provide a more localised, Ireland-specific insight into climate policy and science to sit alongside international reports.