Now that a sectoral target for agriculture has been agreed by Government, it now needs to deliver a plan as to how it will be achieved.

Farmers will want to know the shape of the roadmap to achieving a 25% cut in emissions over the next eight years.

And time is of the essence.

Everyone is aware that the Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) measures fall well short, and that a reduction in cow numbers now seems inevitable.

The big ask will be that the Government lives up to its commitment that any reduction will be voluntary and supported.

There is fear among farmers that they will be squeezed in a pincer movement between stiffer nitrates regulations that reduce stocking rates and the Farm to Fork planned reductions in fertiliser and pesticides.

For this to work, farmer buy-in is essential. Reducing emissions from 23m tonnes of CO2 in 2018 to 17.25m tonnes in 2030 is a tall order, and we only get the first 4m tonnes of reduction or so if everyone takes up the MACC measures.

They include low emission slurry spreading, better breeding of cattle, earlier finishing dates for beef cattle, extended grazing, and minimum tillage.

The idea is that these measures make economic sense as well as environmental sense for farmers. These measures have also been supported in terms of capital investment through TAMS.

However, getting 130,000 farmers to adopt and adapt to best practice is a daunting challenge.

And the more confusion there is about the measures that go beyond the MACC, the “voluntary” ones, the more resistance there will be from farmers.


For this reason, trust in the Department and the plan it puts forward is essential.

Of course, there will be involvement in creating the plan from stakeholders including farm organisations, but ultimately, the credibility of the plan will hinge on the credibility of the Government – in particular, the Minister for Agriculture and the Department.

In this regard, a poor start has been made.


On Friday, day one of the journey to a low-carbon 2030, the Department released adjustments to the obligation to cultivate stubble within 14 days of harvesting.

It’s no longer required if planting an autumn crop, one quarter of the land is to remain uncultivated for birds to pick from, and certain counties are now exempt.

All very practical, but too late for a lot of farmers who cut winter crops. Farmers are frustrated and annoyed that the Department was so slow to announce these changes. It’s not too little, but it is too late.

It also confirmed that from 2024, the organic nitrogen limit on at least some derogation farms will be 220kg/ha, a 12% reduction.

But farmers won’t know if they are in such a zone or not until September 2023, four months before the new rules come into effect.

It feels that, like the LULUCF sectoral target, the can is being kicked down the road. The bruising CAP reform is less than a year ago, relations between farmers and the Department are strained.

The Department must do better.