Ireland’s emissions targets in the agricultural sector need to be met by reducing emissions on current production levels, not through decreased production, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said.

IFA president Francie Gorman said the announcement that Irish agriculture had reduced emissions by 4.6% last year shows the efforts farmers are making.

However, he added that the elements of the reduction which are due to the drop in cattle numbers and less use of fertiliser would have economic and social consequences for the sector.

“The result for 2023 means our emissions have dropped for three years in succession and is evidence that measures adopted by farmers are having an impact.

“While progress on our emissions targets is important, we need to achieve this through reducing emissions per unit of output.

“Achieving it by reducing production will have negative economic and social implications. We must get the balance right,” he said.


The IFA president added that among the factors that contributed to last year’s fall in emissions was a reduction in fertiliser use.

“This is partly due to adopting new technologies such as multispecies swards and better use of organic nutrients.

“However, the increased price of fertiliser is also a factor. Less fertiliser will lead to less grass growth. In a year when the weather is unfavourable, this will have implications for output and the amount of fodder being saved,” he said.

Gorman added that reducing cattle numbers will have consequences also.

“Suckler cow numbers are down and milk deliveries will be down this year too. What economic activity will replace this in our rural areas?

“We need to be careful not to pursue emissions reductions as the only measure, with no regard for the economic and social consequences in rural areas.

“The issue of food security must also be kept front and centre. The world population is growing and more food will be needed.

“If it’s not produced in Ireland, it will have to be produced in other countries with what is likely to be a higher carbon footprint,” he said.

Country-specific research

In 2024, significant recalculations were undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) based on new country-specific research that enabled the refinement of estimations on emissions for the agriculture sector and land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector.

“This adjustment shows that emissions calculations for agriculture and LULUCF are continually being revised and refined as new country-specific research becomes available.

“It is vital that the research calculations of emissions and removals continues at pace and that farmers are credited for the carbon they are storing in their forests, hedges, grasslands and crops,” he said.

ICMSA reaction

Reacting to the emissions reduction announcement, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) president Denis Drennan welcomed the drop, but said this happened without “meaningful Government support”.

Drennan said that State policy on helping farmers reduce agri emissions was “all stick and no carrot” and had contributed to the collapse in farm incomes - particularly in the dairy sector.

The ICMSA president added that one meaningful way the Government could recognise the reductions in farm emissions while providing some support to farm families would be the introduction of a climate and volatility mitigation measure.

“We desperately need some way of helping farmers to set aside any funds in ‘good’ years that they can access in ‘bad’ years of exactly the type we’re experiencing now.

“Those funds can be under the regulation of the central bank in approved deposits and any tax due can be paid when they’re withdrawn and brought back into the farm accounts.

“The details are there and open to negotiation, but no one seriously doubts that we need some way of allowing farmers to park money in good years that they can use in the bad years.

“The volatility is so much more extreme and the bad years are occurring so much more frequently,” he said.

Department of Agriculture

Meanwhile, all Department of Agriculture ministers have welcomed the 4.6% reduction announced this Tuesday in the EPA report.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said the emissions reduction figures for 2023 are very positive.

“They show that agriculture is on the right path, especially following on from reductions in 2022. It is very encouraging to see the work that farmers are putting in on the ground reflected in the results.

“It’s important that we maintain this positive trajectory and continue in our efforts to achieve the commitment of a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for agriculture by 2030,” he said.

The Department said agriculture has laid a solid foundation to deliver a downwards emissions trajectory over the coming years.

It added that policies influencing this include measures such as genotyping of calves, promoting the use of renewable energy on farms, reducing the use of fertilisers and pesticides, improving soil health and promoting biodiversity.

“We will continue to support the advancement of technologies to ensure the continued positive emission trajectory of the agricultural sector.

“It is critical that we maintain food output whilst at the same time reducing the climate footprint and I will continue to support farmers in delivering on this dual ambition.

“This is critical to maintaining a viable sector that is both economically and environmentally sustainable” Minister McConalogue said.