Land is a zero-sum game and Ireland can’t have another 300,000ha of land for forestry, anaerobic digestion (AD), tillage, dairy and solar without some impact on other sectors, Teagasc director Frank O’Mara has said.

Citing the targets and land needs for a range of sectors at last week’s Lismullin farming conference in Meath, he said if targets are to be achieved, “we will see significant land use change somewhere and enterprise substitution”.

O’Mara outlined that the tillage area is to increase by over 50,000ha to 400,000ha by 2030, and said that if Ireland was to plant 8,000ha of forestry per year, that would take out 56,000ha.

An estimated 120,000ha is expected to be required for AD and thousands more hectares for solar farming.

He estimated that before the derogation was cut to 220kg organic N/ha, an extra 60,000ha of land would have been required by the dairy sector to retain current stock numbers.

“We’ve lots of policies that say we’re going to do this, that, or the other.

“We’ve a policy to develop an AD industry in Ireland, a very ambitious one; that would require about 120,000ha of land and also an awful lot of slurry to feed that.

“Before we had the change to the 220 last year, our modelling would have anticipated a continued modest increase in dairy, maybe 1% per year in the size of the cow herd, which by 2030 would mean another 100,000 to 120,000 cows added to the dairy herd.

Demand increasing

“Last year, we saw the maximum stocking rate reduce and most dairy farmers are now scrambling to find a bit of land to keep their existing herd rather than expand numbers.

“Either way, we’re seeing a demand for extra land for dairying. I picked a figure of around 60,000ha, which would have accommodated those extra 120,000 cows, if they were added to the herd,” he said.